After four years, last Friday I graduated from Colorado Mountain College with my A.A.S. in professional photography. It has been a long journey starting with taking night classes while still teaching elementary school fulltime and ending with one final Zoom critique at my kitchen table.
I can’t shake the feeling of déjà vu. I graduated from the University of Denver with my bachelor’s degree in writing in 2009. I had plans of being a journalist, but that was the year of the recession. Denver’s oldest paper, the Rocky Mountain News, went under just weeks earlier and I was competing for the same jobs and even unpaid internships as veteran journalists with decades of experience. So, I joined the Peace Corps instead and eventually got a teaching license.
Now, it’s 2020 and I am once again trying to break into journalism, only this time as a photographer. Ad revenues have plummeted in response to shutting down the economy and newspapers across the country are laying off and furloughing journalists. It really hit home as I started to see local journalists’ names disappear from our mountain papers.
It is a bad time to graduate in almost any field. Since February, almost 40 million people have filed for unemployment. Almost no one is hiring. Joining the Peace Corps isn’t even an option. For students living off student loans there will be no-unemployment assistance to replace that lost income, and for undocumented students there will be no stimulus check to wait for. It is going to be very hard financially for a lot of recent college grads.
I am lucky. My partner is working full time, and I am still able to do some freelance photojournalism. And unlike in 2009, I have another skill set to fall back on — teaching. Right now, I’m looking at ways I can possibly replace my lost income through tutoring. Things are definitely not going to plan, but I am okay with that. Perhaps that is a lesson I learned after my 2009 graduation.
It is my hope that the class of 2020 will not be forgotten and that, when the economy recovers, employers hire us for jobs in our chosen fields. Until then most of us will have to spend the foreseeable future doing plan B. During this time, I encourage our community to support recent grads through mentorships. In the last year, I’ve met a lot of working photojournalists and a few have stayed in contact with me. They check in on me every once in a while, alert me to opportunities and give me feedback on my work. This along with the continued support and mentorship of my CMC professors has meant the world to me. It keeps me going when my dreams feel impossible.
Last week, a blue and yellow box arrived on my porch. Inside was a graduation cap and messages of congratulations. I opened it and felt immense gratitude for CMC. Because of CMC, I was able to get a second degree as an adult, in my own community, without taking on any debt. I got a better education and have had more opportunities than I ever expected.
On May 15, we had our virtual graduation ceremony. After countless hours learning alongside my classmates, we sat in our living rooms listening to speeches and words of encouragement. We ended this long journey alone, but together we enter into an unknown world.