The final semester for the Class of 2020 is in the books and one for the books.
COVID-19 made its entrance onto the world stage and changed the blueprint for everything. When it’s your senior year of college you think of closing the door on a chapter, making lasting memories and maybe coasting to graduation. You don’t think of a global health crisis, social distancing, shelter-in-place, wearing a mask, all your courses going online, events being canceled, a virtual graduation and more.
And you don’t think of all of it happening in a matter of weeks.
Of course, the unexpected events we encounter in life will challenge us. You take them, the disappointment, brush yourself off and keep going. I spoke with one senior in particular about her experience.
Miss Allison McKay, a senior at The University of Colorado at Boulder (CU).
Miss McKay is a student, daughter, sister, founder, dancer, creator, friend, employee, and more. She is well-spoken, intelligent, passionate, dedicated and poised. Miss McKay has big plans for her future and is going on to achieve great things.
I sat down “with” her over FaceTime and this is what transcribed:
- What college do you attend? The University of Colorado at Boulder.
- What is your degree? Chemical and Biological Engineering.
- Do you have a job? Yes, a Research Associate in Cell Line Development at Memphis Meats in Berkley, California. I will be moving there in about a month.
- Can you describe what your job will be? There are a lot of unsustainable and unethical practices in current animal agriculture (the way that meat is produced). My company focuses on finding another way to produce meat. The general term for my field is “cellular agriculture”, which is producing agricultural food products from cell cultures using a combination of biotechnology, tissue engineering, molecular biology, and synthetic biology to create and design new methods of producing proteins, fats, and tissues that would otherwise come from traditional animal agriculture. To put it simply, we are trying to grow meat using animal cells rather than using a live animal. This removes live animals from the equation altogether, and is a more sustainable and ethical way of meat production. My role specifically focuses on developing stable cell lines (of animal muscle or fat cells), which can eventually be used in meat production.
- What was the job hunting/interview process like? The process is definitely different. The first part of the process is normal. You have a 15-20 minute phone screening with a recruiter where they decide if they want to pursue you as a candidate and then you have a second interview that is a little longer phone call and sometimes with someone who is an expert in the field that you will be working in. The third stage is normally an onsite interview that lasts maybe four hours. That part was really different because I obviously couldn’t go onsite. There is a lot to be said about meeting people in person and getting the vibe of the workplace. I didn’t get any of that. We did it over Zoom and it worked just fine. There are some advantages to having the interview over Zoom because you can have notes and questions written down.
- What activities are you a part of in college and outside of college? I founded a club called The Alternative Protein Project Boulder (technical club, talking about the field and science of cellular agriculture and, which is cultivating animal cells in a laboratory setting, like in a bioreactor for the purpose of making food products, which is what my future job revolves around. I am really fixated on growing meat. It can be more sustainable, ethical, and healthier as well. I’m on a Latin dance team that is not affiliated with CU.
- What events have been canceled for these activities you are a part of? I had to cancel all in-person meetings for both of the CU clubs I started (a Latin dance club – “Bachata Connexion”, and an alternative protein science club – “The Alternative Protein Project of Boulder”). We had to shift our focus from having in person meetings and speakers to making sure the club’s foundation is strong so that it can continue when on campus school begins again. My eight hours of dance training per week also got cancelled along with weekly social dancing (I miss dancing so much). I also was looking forward to celebrating with my friends after graduating.
- How are your parents handling missing activities that you are involved in and things that would close out those activities? My parents keep asking about an online ceremony… I think they were really excited to watch me graduate because I’ve earned a tough degree and they are proud (and also they’ve paid loads for me to go to school so this graduating and getting my diploma is where it all pays off). I think my parents feel bad that I don’t get my graduation ceremony more than anything.
- What does it feel like to be going through these changes? I’m feeling a little uneasy about all the change that has happened/is happening (finishing college, getting my first job, moving to another state…) especially without having the closure with friends, professors and college in general that I always thought I would have. But I could argue that I may have felt just as uneasy about all of these big life changes if the pandemic hadn’t happened, as the pandemic has kind of slowed things down for me and has given me more time to ponder these big changes.
- Did you have any experience with taking online classes prior to all your courses being moved online? No.
- How has it been with everything being online? It was no big deal at all. All the professors and everyone at the university did a good job transitioning to an online learning format. I would almost say things were easier once they went online.
- What are the plans for your graduation? We would’ve had it on May 7th. I went to my brother’s graduation so I knew what it was going to be like and I was so excited. I thought “wow this is going to be *ME* in a couple years… I can’t wait and I always cry at graduations, I was really excited.” Now it’s going to be virtual. It’s a pre-recorded live stream that they are releasing on the 15th. They go through everyone’s picture virtually. They are putting forth an effort to personalize it more. We got an email and they wanted a nice photo, a fun fact and your plans after graduation, so they can say a little bit about each person. They are doing their best to make it special. We started a petition to postpone our graduation instead of canceling it. The petition got 1,000’s of signatures, but didn’t convince them to postpone instead of a virtual ceremony. I’m very pleased with the outcome, though, because not only do we have a virtual ceremony, but our graduating class was also invited back to campus in 2021 to have our ceremony and walk!
- What does it feel like to be missing out on a normal graduation? It’s a bummer! Walking across the stage is a type of “closure” that we were all looking forward to so much. I was excited for that closure and to experience my college graduation with the friends and professors who have been impactful during my four years at CU. It feels like an unsatisfying ending. The main emotion is disappointment. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. This whole situation is so unique and it’s not something many other people can relate to. When people hear your graduation is canceled they say “oh, that sucks” and but it’s hard to empathize. My boss, a Nobel laureate, who I look up to very much, said he understands where we are coming from as his college graduation was canceled 50 years ago because of the Vietnam War and his 50th college reunion was canceled this year because of Coronavirus.”
- How do you think this will affect your generation’s outlook on life? My generation will certainly never forget about this – I think it has helped a lot of us to realize that the small things are the big things in life… sounds silly but simply going out for dinner with friends or going to the gym are things that we will all be grateful for in the future. Hopefully my generation will walk away from this with a bit more of a “carpe diem” mentality.
- How do you think this health crisis has changed your life the most? Going into lock down gave me a lot of time to find a job. If I hadn’t put so much hard work into perfecting my resume, writing cover letters, applying for jobs, interviewing etc., I may not have landed my ideal job the way I did. If the pandemic hadn’t happened I could be moving somewhere different, working for a different company, or not have a job at all. I’ve also learned through my relationship that just because you spend 24/7 physically together because you are quarantined together, it doesn’t mean that you can stop dedicating quality time to spend together. Being “together” locked in the same house for weeks on end makes it easy to stop doing the little things that keep your relationship healthy like going for walks together or having a date night once per week. (Which might seem silly since you’re together all the time anyways but its QUALITY over quantity.)
- Is there something that you did this year that if you knew it would’ve been your last time doing it, would you have done it differently? If I knew it would be my last time out dancing I would have stayed out longer and appreciated it more. I might have just spent more time socially with the people from college who I am really close with. There are a lot of times I turned down going to parties, bars, breakfast; I won’t have the opportunity to do that even after I graduate. Now I am going to move away and I wish I had spent more time with these people.
- Can you tell me something positive that has come out of this? I was pretty burnt out by the time we went into isolation and it was a bit of a blessing in disguise. I got the chance to slow down and recharge, to dedicate some serious time to finding a job, to spend more time with my family… I’m thankful that I was able to spend so much time with my family during lock down.
Note: I have spoken with Ms. McKay since her virtual graduation and she had this to say about the virtual ceremony.
“After my virtual graduation I’m feeling like I’ve had some closure. I really enjoyed the virtual ceremony and I watched it on Zoom with a bunch of friends from my class department. One of the speeches was really creative and funny and it wouldn’t have been possible to give a speech like that at a live commencement ceremony (because he was writing on paper that we could all see in the video but wouldn’t be able to see if he gave a speech up on a podium). I think the circumstances made our graduation special in a lot of cool ways. We were also invited to come back in a year and have our own in person ceremony where we do get to walk! Almost like we get two graduations.”
When this health crisis has passed and we go back to our normal lives, I hope the experiences these seniors have gone through will help them throughout their lives. They have experienced an event that sets them apart from the rest.
The Class of 2020 will always be remembered.