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The end of beginnings: Graduating students choose themselves

By Khushy Vashisht

With the end of the school year just around the corner, students graduating from Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) reflect on the last four years of their education and lives while experiencing a wide range of emotions.

Starting a new chapter of their lives in unprecedented times in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the graduating class of 2024 didn’t have the most conventional beginning to their post-secondary journey.

Although graduating students feel the expected nerves and anticipation that comes with the great milestone, they also value the experiences made along the way and look forward to the next.

Amanda Noor, a fourth-year creative industries student, said she felt she was still in high school despite being in her first year of university due to online learning. 

“I graduated virtually and then all of a sudden, university is virtual. All that changed were the people on my screen,” Noor said. “It felt weird to be at home in this supposedly ‘best time of my life.’”

According to a 2023 report summary by Employment and Social Development Canada, a department of the Government of Canada, post-secondary students became increasingly frustrated with online learning during COVID-19. As a result, reports of anxiety and depression also grew among students.

Once pandemic restrictions were lifted across Canada and TMU began making plans to reopen campus, Noor and other students alike felt their spirits rising.

“There was a certain level of excitement that came with returning to in-person classes,” Noor said. “For the first time, I felt like a university student.”

Now, the online days are just a mere memory and instead, students revel in the memories they got to make throughout their undergraduate programs.

“I also want to be able to do things just for me as a person”

Sheridan Riggillo, a fourth-year media production student, credited her program for helping her figure out what career path to take. Although she came into the program wanting to be a performer and actress, she has since found a passion for producing and writing for television.

“I had a totally different idea of what the industry was, I didn’t know about it really,” Riggillo said. “Then through my time at TMU, I really got to engage with different faculty and industry members.”

For Nadya Kulkarni, a fifth-year law and business student, some memorable moments came through working in interesting roles at various companies.

As part of her program’s co-op requirements, Kulkarni worked different positions for the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade and the Royal Bank of Canada over multiple semesters. She said the experience provided her with clarity with the types of roles she’d like to pursue in the future.

“I’m a very hands-on learner and that gave me the opportunity to actually work in a real role and see what I would enjoy when I graduate,” Kulkarni said.

Apart from co-op, some programs require completing internships to graduate. Noor completed her internship at CBC Kids as part of the TV team. She said working there felt rewarding and was worth enrolling in the creative industries program.

“It confirmed my choice of making the right decision of going into creative industries,” she said. “If I had done a business management degree, I probably wouldn’t have had that experience.”

Extracurriculars, like student groups, were also highlighted as being a fulfilling part of the university experience.

Kulkarni, the co-president of Women in Information Technology Management and the Students’ Law Network, said that being a part of these groups was “transformative.”

“They give you a lot of hands-on experience and it really shows what type of person you are in a collaborative setting,” she said. “It also shows you how to work with different types of people in more of a leadership role versus being in an associate or director position.”

Noor found herself in a similar situation by being a part of several student initiatives such as Her Campus Toronto MU, Met TV, The Society of the Creative School and more.

“I got the opportunity, through the degree, to really expand my boundaries as a student as opposed to just focusing on academics,” Noor said.

Although students reflect on their valuable takeaways from their university experience, there are still certain aspects of the journey they wish they could’ve changed, whether that be getting involved in the campus community earlier or maximizing university resources.

Riggillo wished she didn’t enter her program as “strong-headed” as she did. She would’ve wanted to take classes that simply spoke to her interests rather than taking those that would act solely as a “resume builder.”

“If I had just taken courses for the sake of taking them, I think that would have been a little bit of a more enjoyable experience,” she said. “That’s where it’s feeding the human in you too.”

“It felt weird to be at home in this supposedly ‘best time of my life’”

Despite being a part of student groups from her second year, Kulkarni wished she got involved right from the get-go. As she started university in 2019, she experienced her freshman year in-person before COVID-19 lockdown protocols were put in place the following year.

“When COVID-19 happened, there was so much pivot and these events and everything had to be online,” she said. “I don’t think it was as impactful having these online events versus the now in-person ones.”

Kulkarni had also hoped to take advantage of the Academic Support Centre at TMU. Her first year was difficult as throughout high school, she was more inclined to subjects such as math and science over business, and the pivot to her current program came as a “big shock.”

“I really wished I had leveraged the academic support that TMU and my own faculty provides because I think I would have done a lot better in terms of academics for the first year,” she said.

Now, when looking ahead into the future, students have their reservations about leaving the safety net as a student and entering the workforce.

The current job market poses as a stressor for Noor especially after hearing about layoffs at CBC late last year. 

“I’m getting worried. Obviously the economy is not as strong as I would like it to be as a graduate,” she said.

As a result, she said she feels unmotivated to put in her best efforts to look for a job coming out of her program.

Similarly, Riggillo said the uncertainty of the media industry can be difficult to deal with. 

“It’s not the best time for the [media] industry,” she said. “It’s a hard thing of sitting comfortably as a student to now actually try to be employable.”

However, in spite of the unease, graduating students are ultimately looking to prioritize themselves rather than immediately throwing themselves into job hunts. For Riggillo, Noor and Kulkarni, this means travelling abroad and taking a break.

Riggillo said due to the “hustle culture” surrounding today’s generation, it can be difficult to balance the need to progress in one’s career while also taking time for yourself.

“I want to be making moves for my career, take big steps for my career and advocate for myself to get the future opportunities I dreamed to have,” she said. “But I also want to be able to do things just for me as a person, not necessarily a worker.”

Kulkarni said her mentors throughout the years have continuously advised her not to go into work right after and instead, enjoy a few months away from it all.

“As much as I love student groups, they are also a lot of work…being a co-president for two groups is definitely a lot of work and time committed,” she said. “I will now have so much time back and want to maximize it instead of jumping straight into a career where I’m spending 40 hours per week [working].”

Travelling after graduation isn’t an unheard concept, however there is a growing trend among new graduates to prioritize self-care. 

A 2021 study from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University examined the “niche” of graduation travel. It concluded that a component behind the desire to go on such trips is personal development and consolidating one’s identity. 

“The friendships you make, just savour those relationships and make the most of it”

As one graduting class is stepping away from their post secondary journeys, they leave a few words for those still at TMU.

Riggillo advised first-year students to enter this next stage of their lives with an open mind and said “don’t be afraid to branch out of your little circle of your program.”

Noor, in particular, has experienced a full-circle moment as her younger sister is now a first-year early childhood studies student at TMU. She said her advice to her sister was to simply “have fun.”

“The friendships you make, just savour those relationships and make the most of it,” Noor said. “Take every experience you can and try to have no regrets.”

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