VOICES: Young workers must ‘push forward’ despite historic unemployment rates, recent Ohio State grad from Centerville says

Ayush Peddireddi is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University with degrees in English literature and biomedical science. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Vietnam this year, which he plans to pursue before entering medical school. He attended his college graduation virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ayush Peddireddi is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University with degrees in English literature and biomedical science. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Vietnam this year, which he plans to pursue before entering medical school. He attended his college graduation virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On a cool morning in May, I, like the members of the 150 classes of students before mine, dressed for my school’s spring commencement ceremony. Donning a white oxford shirt with a scarlet and grey tie to celebrate my alma mater-to be, I put on my black gown and secured my cap, deeming myself ready to go.

Ayush Peddireddi is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University with degrees in English literature and biomedical science. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Vietnam this year, which he plans to pursue before entering medical school. He lives in Centerville.
Ayush Peddireddi is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University with degrees in English literature and biomedical science. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Vietnam this year, which he plans to pursue before entering medical school. He lives in Centerville.

“With the unemployment rate this year reaching its highest level since the Great Depression, today’s graduates face a situation quite unlike any of their past peers have experienced. It is hard to say what lurks on the horizon of our global society itself, let alone our personal and professional lives.”

- Ayush Peddireddi

Instead of making the mile-long trek to Ohio Stadium, I proceeded to a slightly closer destination – the couch of my living room. For the first time in the University’s history, the commencement would take place virtually, in the form of a livestream interspersed with pre-recorded clips. While highly unusual, this virtual ceremony was just another example of the fundamental way our lives have been impacted by COVID-19.

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The idea that college is a transformative period and holds such an esteemed space in people’s hearts and memories is at its surface, rather puzzling: it generally only spans four years, an infinitesimal fraction of our lives. To understand this phenomenon, an effort must then be made to clarify the exact scope of the phrase “college”, for solely referring to classes and academic involvements paints an incomplete picture.

No, the assorted series of triumphs and failures, infatuations and heartbreaks alike play an equally if not more important role in shaping the proverbial neophyte that initially stepped onto campus.

This is not to imply that the college graduate is a finished product by any means; indeed, it is often this group that faces the most uncertainty. The thought of what the post-graduate future holds is daunting, and the pandemic has only compounded upon this anxiety by suffocating the job market and isolating us from needed pillars of social support, all the while under a cloud of an invisible force that threatens to harm us and our loved ones.

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With the unemployment rate this year reaching its highest level since the Great Depression, today’s graduates face a situation quite unlike any of their past peers have experienced. It is hard to say what lurks on the horizon of our global society itself, let alone our personal and professional lives.

There have been improvements, but things are far from ideal.

Our nation’s new jobless claims for the week ending Sept. 5 were 884,000, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday. It was the same number of new claims the prior week.

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But the pandemic has also, amidst its exposure of deficits in public policy and the healthcare system, highlighted an important attribute central to the human condition: resilience. Individuals everywhere are adapting to the demands of the current climate not out of fear, but care for their fellow people, and determination to collectively beat this virus. As students we must do the same, and push forward in spite of everything that has been thrown at us.

The word “commencement” itself appears to be a curious misnomer: after all, the event for which it is named chiefly celebrates the end of a period, and one’s achievement of a college degree. Perhaps a re-framing is then needed, for the ceremony does indeed mark a commencement of sorts: our entry into the real world, as individuals ready to find our footing. The opportunity to apply our degree, yes, but also our accrued knowledge and experiences. Pandemic or not, we owe it to ourselves to exhibit the same resolve that has come to define our class.

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Ayush Peddireddi is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University with degrees in English literature and biomedical science. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Vietnam this year, which he plans to pursue before entering medical school. He lives in Centerville.