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Setbacks and silver linings: Class of 2020 reflects on graduating in a pandemic

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It’s been seven months since the Class of 2020 celebrated their graduation, and their post-graduation lives haven’t quite been what they’ve expected. 

Nevertheless, recent alumni say that they’ve experienced unexpected blessings in their transition into the workforce. 

Before the pandemic began in earnest, Katie Cassedy, Trinity ‘20, had secured a job at LinkedIn in Dublin, Ireland. Cassedy grew up traveling to Ireland often and said that she was excited to reunite with the many friends that she’d made there over the years and get involved in Dublin’s vibrant sailing community, one of her passions. 

When Cassedy found out in May that her start date had been pushed from October 2020 to July 2021, she was excited that she would have the opportunity to do something unique for a year without having to deal with the stress of finding a job. Since traveling wasn’t a feasible option, she decided to pursue opportunities related to teaching, an interest she had cemented as a member of the Knowledge in the Service of Society Focus program her first semester at Duke. 

“If I can’t do something that’s really fun, I’d like to do something meaningful,” Cassedy recalled thinking. “I realized that something I had always wanted to do was teach.”

After considering opportunities throughout the United States, Cassedy ended up being awarded a scholarship to do a Continuing Studies program in education at Duke. She is also a member of TeachHouse, a community of teachers who live together in Durham and participate in professional and personal development programs.  

During the fall semester, Cassedy took Duke classes in the evenings, tutored students and participated in virtual classroom observations during the day. Next semester, she said she’s excited to begin teaching students in a third grade class at a Durham elementary school, although the school board has not yet announced whether students will be returning to school in-person.

Gaurav Uppal, Pratt ’20, works in program management for Microsoft and is currently living with his family in New York. In January, he’ll make the move to Atlanta, the location of the new Microsoft offices he was hired to work at. 

Uppal explained that because the Atlanta offices were brand new, he likely wouldn’t have been able to start his job in person even if the pandemic hadn’t happened. When he moves to his apartment in Atlanta—where he’ll be rooming with a friend from Duke—he will still work mostly remotely for the time being. 

Uppal expressed that it has been challenging to develop a schedule that lets him be efficient without feeling overly drained. 

“Generally, time feels really weird when you’re at home. There’s really no boundary between work and life afterwards,” he said.

When he first started his job, Uppal decided to maintain a strict schedule to develop a disciplined work ethic. He made sure to be at his computer between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., with a short lunch break. He realized, however, that this kind of schedule was especially draining in a remote work environment, which doesn’t come with natural breaks or energizing social interactions. Now he starts his day earlier and takes a longer lunch break, making sure to get outside whenever possible. 

Uppal, a self-described extrovert, said he generally works better in the presence of others, so keeping his energy levels up has been difficult. Although he hasn’t met any of his colleagues in person yet, he tried to make an effort in the first few weeks to invite co-workers for quick one-on-one virtual meetings to get to know people. He also enjoys talking to those he works most closely with during biweekly virtual “team huddles.”

Samantha Kost, Trinity ‘20, is working from an apartment in New York City as an analyst at Credit Suisse, an investment banking company. She has three roommates, including a friend from Duke and her twin sister, who went to Vanderbilt University. 

Kost interned at Credit Suisse the summer before her senior year, and received her job offer before fall classes officially began. Her start date was pushed back by less than a month, but she wasn’t told until around a month before that she’d be working entirely virtually. 

Kost works from 6:30 a.m. to around 7 p.m. every day, so she appreciates that working from home means less transition time and no commute. She also feels that the remote format has made her transition into her new job a lot less stressful than it would ordinarily have been. 

“There’s almost an aspect of this that is easing you in. You don’t have to look the part, you can do it from the comfort of your own space or behind a screen and learn the ropes before you show up” in person, Kost said. 

Cassedy, Kost and Uppal all expressed that while this year brought unexpected frustrations, obstacles and disappointments, they were grateful for their situations and able to identify personal silver linings. 

Uppal said he is grateful for the opportunity to spend extra time with his family, but he is also looking forward to “feeling like [he] can actually start post-grad life.”

“Establishing your own habits, being in your own space, it really makes a difference,” he said.

Before the pandemic, Uppal planned on participating in the Venture for America fellowship, a program for aspiring entrepreneurs. However, because of the economic instability that he anticipated COVID-19 would create, Uppal ended up taking the job with Microsoft, a pivot that he said he is ultimately grateful for. 

“I don’t know if [working at Microsoft] would have made sense for me in 2019. But it definitely made sense for me in 2020. And I think I realized that the world after graduation is a lot more diverse than I thought. I realized that I don’t have to lose my authenticity, no matter what,” Uppal said.

While Cassedy admitted that this wasn’t how she expected to spend her first year after graduation, she said she feels lucky for the opportunity for personal growth and developing an existing passion.  

“Obviously, no one wants their plans to ever be skewed. But, for how that happened, I think I am making the most of my extra year, and I’m really doing something that I’m super excited for and something that I think I’ll take with me for a very long time and probably return to very soon,” Cassedy reflected. 

Cassedy said she is pretty sure she’ll move to Dublin to work at LinkedIn this summer, though she hopes to return to teaching before long. 

“Teaching is definitely part of my life somewhere, and I’m just trying to figure out where right now,” she said.

Despite the perks of her current work-from-home situation, Kost said that she will definitely feel ready to work in-person when the time comes, because she knows that there is a lot to learn that she won’t figure out until she is “sitting next to [her] boss in the office.”

While Kost is sad to have missed out on getting to know her new colleagues in person and exploring a normally vibrant city, she feels very grateful for her situation. 

“I’m one of the lucky ones. Everyone who still had a job, even if it was pushed back, was one of the lucky ones,” she said. “I’m learning so much, and it’s a steep learning curve, but that’s what I signed up for. And it’s interesting and engaging and something that’s worth, at least for now, getting up at 6:30 for,” Kost said. 

Uppal said that another positive to come out of the pandemic was that he has been able to put extra time and effort into staying in touch with his friends from Duke. 

“I was really worried about people from Duke getting super swamped in their new lives and moving everywhere around the world and having this breaking off of connections. This year, there was definitely a lot of silence, but there was also this sense that if I call somebody, they might have time to talk to me. One of the best things that has really kept me going has been talking with friends,” he said. 

Kost echoed Uppal’s thoughts, saying that being in Durham during the beginning of the pandemic made people hang out only with those they really cared about.

“I think I got closer to the people I cared about. And now, everyone’s forced to pick up the phone a lot more and it’s a lot easier,” Kost said. 


Anna Zolotor | News Editor

Anna Zolotor is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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