Class of 2020 - Lockdown Edition

Emily Spackman-McKee, Marketing

University graduation is going to be a lot different for the class of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. For practically every single final year student, uni ended out of nowhere, with no warning, no chance to say goodbye and with uncertainty surrounding both exams and the real world of work. We have our very own lockdown graduate, our Marketing Assistant Emily who did the Communications, Advertising and Marketing degree at Ulster University, and here she tells us about completing her finals whilst on lockdown.

Last September, as I embarked on the final year of my Communication, Advertising and Marketing degree, I really thought my biggest struggles would be picking a dissertation topic, finding time for a social life and deciding what to wear to graduation. Definitely not a global pandemic. 

It would be an understatement to say that finishing final year in lockdown was stressful but I guess it did take away the issue of finding something to wear to graduation…silver linings, right? 

Three months ago, on the 25th February, I had just come back from London after conducting interviews for my dissertation and was attending an advanced advertising lecture. Feeling surprisingly relaxed about final year and really just looking forward to finishing, I wish I’d known it was my last ever lecture as an undergrad student. 

Initially when it was announced that Ulster University would be closing for the foreseeable I wasn’t overly worried. Yes, it was a bit disappointing attending my last lecture without being aware and knowing I wouldn’t get to treat myself to coffee breaks with my uni friends, but I had settled in well to working from home for Reach and I thought I’d manage with uni work just the same. I was very wrong. 

Before lockdown, I was able to do uni work anywhere, the library, at home, my lunch break in work and even Café Nero at the back of Boots the odd time. What I didn’t realise was that this variety of study locations was exactly the thing keeping me focused. In the first few weeks of lockdown I barely managed to spend 20 minutes at a time on my assignments. So I tried my best to create variety at home, keeping work to my desk and uni work to the dining room table. Maybe it's because I had set part-time hours for work but I still found that I was more productive during those hours compared to when I sat down to do uni work. Every time I sat down at the dining room table it took me twice as long to get anything done for uni and I found myself taking more and more unnecessary coffee breaks. At least I saved a bit of money here as my coffees didn’t involve £3 iced caramel lattes from Café Nero, guess that means I’ll have enough money to buy a house soon eh? 

After a few weeks, with three assignment deadlines, dissertation and an exam looming I was really wondering if I would manage to get everything done. Then I got the awful news that my nanny and my great uncle had both got COVID-19. Understandably, this put all uni work on hold, I was so worried I couldn’t even think of sitting down to write an assignment. Thankfully, they both made a full recovery and I had been granted deadline extensions but I knew I had to do everything possible to stay focused and ensure that I finished on time. So I set myself a routine, on the days I wasn’t working I would have set 9 to 5 hours for uni work, with a lunch break. This routine worked wonders and by adding in a morning commute in the form of a walk around the garden, I managed to create some sense of normality in a completely abnormal situation. I got my focus back and despite the odds, I finished university on time. 

Submitting my dissertation and completing my last ever exam on the same day was definitely a very strange and stressful experience. It is not at all how I pictured finishing my final days of uni but it's an experience I will never forget and I will definitely add ‘ability to deal with immense pressure’ to my CV! 

Being in lockdown didn’t stop the celebrations and I popped a bottle of bubbly the minute I completed the final submission - although I think my mum was more delighted to have her dining room table back! 

Finishing uni stuck at home definitely felt like an anti-climax but I’m wondering if a big celebration with all my friends and family would have felt much different? Would I still feel a bit empty finishing 18 years of education? There’s really no way of knowing now but at least I finished, even if I am receiving my degree in the post with no cap and gown in sight.

Here’s to being a lockdown graduate!

And here's to you, Emily...we’ve waited for the right moment to quote S Club 7 'Reach for the stars’ and this is it!!!