While many students are eager for potential employers to help guide them through the uncertainty, they also have their own ideas about how best to tackle these new obstacles. The first step O'Reilly took after her job offer was all but rescinded was allowing herself to grieve. "Grief may well seem too strong a word to use for the loss of a job or the loss of a graduation. But when I sat with it, and allowed myself to feel it, I felt more open to taking my next steps," she writes.

Though every student is facing a different set of challenges, O'Reilly explains that it was only when she felt the full weight of the experience that she was able to recalibrate, begin applying for jobs again and even land a position as a medical scribe in her hometown of New Orleans. While the pay is significantly less than her original offer, it's still in the health care space, where O'Reilly hopes to build a career over time.

Of course, it's not always easy to navigate grief alone. Niles Francis, an 18-year-old high school senior, knows this first-hand. In the fall of 2018, he lost everything he owned in a house fire. A month later, his mother unexpectedly passed away from diabetes. If not for his remaining family, friends and even school guidance counselors, he is not sure he would have made it to senior year of high school.

And while he is disappointed he won't get to celebrate his graduation milestone with all those people who came to his aid, he refuses to let the pandemic get in the way of his future plans: "I am fortunate enough to have a community of folks who are genuinely invested in my success, and, well, I can't let them down."

For Shemar Powell, a freshman at Morehouse College, community is not limited to his friends, family or even school -- it includes his church and its many members. When his in-person classes came to a close and he lost his part-time job in Atlanta, Powell returned home to Baltimore to finish off the semester online. Depressed and exhausted by the magnitude of it all, he turned to his faith, which in pandemic times took the form of Zoom church sessions.

"Imagine you are a small child with an ear infection. As you struggle against the pain, you feel the world is coming to an end. But then your mother approaches you, comforts you and takes you to the doctor where you get the treatment you need to heal. Church is the healing mother for me -- more so than my school or job or any other mainstay in my life right now," he writes.

Though not every student has found a "healing mother," most young people who contributed to this series acknowledge they would need to be resilient, breaking with old habits and adopting new ones in order to thrive amid both a global health crisis and a nationwide movement to end systemic racism. As Donnelly puts it, this new reality "is one I simply have to accept, in all of its messy uncertainty."

 

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