By Quinn Heinbaugh

As the globe duels with COVID-19, certainty is a luxury for Principia seniors. With no immediate end to the global shutdown in sight, plans that students cemented as far back as last summer are being postponed or cancelled.

When their last college semester started in January, the stock market was setting record highs and unemployment was the lowest in years. The outlook was bright for seniors making plans to pursue graduate-level education or to launch their careers. Seniors who weren’t sure of their post-graduation plans could at least expect a degree of predictability in the world.

But with the virtual shutdown of the nation because of stay-at-home orders, unemployment has spiked to the highest it has been since the financial crash of 2008, and seniors may have to wait out the summer before their prospects become clear.

Matthew McLeod-Warrick was in the process of applying to multiple programs to work and teach English in China. Unfortunately, one of the promising programs Mcleod-Warrick applied to was cancelled, leaving him without a plan of action. Similar programs are not taking applicants, says McLeod-Warrick.

“It’s really disappointing,” says McLeod-Warrick, a political science and global studies major. “I’ll hopefully still be able to go abroad next year, but right now I have no plans set.”

Fortunately, for McLeod-Warrick, some options remain, and he has decided to work at Crystal Lake Camps in Hughesville, Pennsylvania. McLeod-Warrick is looking forward to the chance to work with his younger sister, Principia sophomore Rachel McLeod-Warrick, who will also be at the Christian Science camp.

Marie Sherman, an education and global studies major, was also denied the opportunity to go abroad. In February, she was accepted into a graduate degree program for international education in Madrid. A Canadian, she was contemplating either going to Madrid in the fall or deferring the program to the following fall and finding work in the United States.

“I felt like I had a lot of different options,” Sherman explains, “but now I don’t know if I’ll be able to do any of them.”

The US-Canada border was closed to nonessential crossings in mid-March, and with the US and Spain currently having the world’s first- and second-highest coronavirus infection counts, respectively, neither of Sherman’s options look too favorable.

While Sherman and McLeod-Warrick wait on travel restrictions to lift, other Principians are making plans to enter the job market. Education major Katie Lovegren was prepared to start work at Castle Mountain Lodge in Estes Park, Colorado after graduation, but will have to put off starting the job, at least until Colorado lifts the stay-at-home order.

Though Castle Mountain Lodge hasn’t reneged on the job offer, Lovegren is concerned that the opportunity could evaporate if current COVID-19 trends continue. Although she admits that the hospitality industry has been greatly affected, she doesn’t yet feel the need to establish a backup plan. The Castle Mountain Lodge isn’t taking guests until April 17, but that date could change.

“I do feel very lucky to have gotten this job last semester,” Lovegren says, “but sadly nothing is guaranteed.”

Senior Skylyr Cieply scored a job working for Oliver Smith Jewelers in Aspen, Colorado. His position involves sales, event planning, social media promotion, and online retail development. Cieply, a business major, is excited to be applying his degree right out of school.

And, conveniently for Cieply, housing costs in Aspen have dropped over recent weeks. “People I have been talking to about apartments have seemed more flexible,” he says.

Oliver Smith gave him a soft starting date of June 2, Cieply says. “Aspen has been pretty conservative with preventative measures. As of right now everything is continuing as planned.”

The rapid erosion of the American job market during students’ senior spring, of all times, is jarring.

The rapid transition from making plans to begin adult life to having those plans indefinitely put on hold is discombobulating to seniors. With no notion of what comes next, even creating a plan B is a tall order.

Featured photo at top is Katie Lovegren, who is concerned that her job in Estes Park, Colorado could evaporate under the current conditions. Courtesy of Haley Bix.