Alumni tell students to take their time with graduating

Georgia State held a virtual ceremony last spring to safely honor its graduates. A new in-person ceremony is officially scheduled for this December. Photo from Georgia State Commencement Website

“What if I don’t graduate on time?” is a thought almost every college student has had before.

Getting valuable experience while in school can determine if a student is prepared for life after graduation. 

The pandemic has caused students to stress over graduating more than usual. 

Many students didn’t land the internship they were hoping for, or it got cut short because of COVID-19, leaving them wondering about their future. 

Withdrawal rates have spiked again, with students not sure how to proceed with their education. 

While Georgia State has tried to help students stay on track, students question how to make this happen. 

“If I took the route of just trying to graduate in four years and not care too much about experience, I probably would not have a job nor have the necessary skills needed to be successful,” Anfernee Patterson, a Georgia State alumnus, said. 

Patterson feels students shouldn’t stress too much about graduating on time but instead focus on gaining reliable experience for your career. 

“It is best to graduate at your pace but also be ready and fully prepared when you’re done,” he said.

Patterson believes it’s not all about being the best academic-wise but just completing your program and gaining experience while in college. 

“Whenever you graduate, if you are not fully prepared however long it took you, it will be a steep hill to climb as you navigate and look for jobs,” he said. 

Many students’ primary objective is to “only focus” on academics and obtain their degree. However, there are other factors to consider for their lives after school, like networking. 

Patterson landed himself a job as a sports reporter with The Atlanta Voice after attending an Atlanta Association of Black Journalists workshop and making a bond with one of their editors. 

“I mainly got this job because I started there as an intern,” he said. “It was all through networking, being involved and just explaining my interests.” 

Being a student who comes to class and then goes home every day is not the best plan for graduating. Getting involved during a pandemic may be challenging, but students can also take this as an opportunity to figure out their next steps. 

“Line up internships, network with business leaders or work on applying to grad school if that’s what you want to do. Make sure you’re also working hard in the final stretch so that employers and recruiters can see your dedication and count you as a favorable candidate,” Will Solomons, former managing editor of The Signal, said. 

As a recent graduate, Solomons’ advice to students is to “do what you want to do, not what you’ve been pressured to do. This, in the end, will make you a lot happier.”

No one’s college path will be the same because different majors require different workloads from students.

“I was a political science student, and my workload was much less than my friends who are doing biology or pre-med or pre-law,” Solomons said. “I think that especially with programs that are a segue into others, such as pre-med, you’ll see more students having higher workload if they’re pursuing higher education after their bachelor’s degree.” 

Each student should take time to figure out what they want out of their education before graduating.

“I worked at the campus newspaper and television station and was heavily involved in [the National Association of Black Journalists],” Patterson said. 

One of the critical factors recruiters look for in student interns is involvement with campus activities. To increase your chances, find organizations on-campus that share your interest then get involved with them.

“I always just wanted to make sure I was a full-time student, though just because if you are not, that affects your aid and many different things,” Patterson said.

Potentially taking away time from classes is a reason many students can’t participate in extracurricular activities. If students take fewer classes, it also results in less aid. 

Working around this by getting internships during the summer can still help you graduate prepared for your field.

“[S]how or tell that you want to do this and go full force with pursuing it. No such thing as doing too much, and if you are, you are likely achieving everything you want and are in the right place,” Patterson said. 

Georgia State understands the importance of commencement for its students, and besides preparing you for graduating, it wants to make sure your graduation ceremony happens. 

“We wanted to celebrate the achievements of our graduates and believe we can now do that safely by following the same protocols we use for those working and learning across our campuses,” Jessica Weintraub, director of university events management, said. 

Due to COVID-19, Georgia State canceled its in-person commencement for spring and summer 2020 graduates, and held a virtual ceremony instead. 

“While we are concerned we have seen slightly higher than normal fall withdrawal rates, we have not seen a major change in the overall number of students eligible to graduate to date for spring or fall,” Weintraub said. “Spring deadlines for graduation applications are not until Dec. 6, and those numbers are continuing to grow to date.” 

Weintraub says this will be a strictly graduates-only ceremony; faculty processional will not be held this year, nor will any staff receive tickets to attend. 

“Graduates who RSVP before the Nov. 15 deadline will be given four guest tickets,” she said. 

Graduates can only sit in the stands with their guests and rise when their name is announced and their picture appears on the screen. 

“We encourage graduates to bring guests who will arrive and leave together,” Weintraub said. 

The ceremony will enforce the CDC guidelines that follow:

  • Graduates must wear masks at all times.
  • We will have hand-sanitizing stations.
  • Seats will be zip-tied closed to allow people to be seated with their pods and enforce social distancing.
  • We will indicate which gates are for entry and which are for exit to prevent crowding.
  • We are not providing shuttles this semester to reduce groupings.

“We encourage graduates who feel safe and comfortable to attend in December to submit their RSVP before the Nov. 15 deadline,” Weintraub said. 

Those students who are not comfortable attending an in-person ceremony can view the ceremony online on Dec. 18. 

“Graduates who are not comfortable participating in this December’s ceremonies will be invited to participate in the spring 2021 ceremonies,” Weintraub said.