The daily struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic are real, but what happens when you throw in a significant life milestone in the mix? New alumnus Matt McCulley describes what his last semester was like and how it felt like to graduate without a physical ceremony.

Matt’s perspective

Graduating in 2020 was an interesting time. I was in Mexico on Spring Break when everything came crashing down. The first news I saw was that the NBA canceled the rest of the season and immediately, I was taken aback. I wasn’t checking my phone that often, due to a poor signal, so I wasn’t aware of what was going on but knew something had to be really bad for the NBA to postpone their season.

I was with a few friends that attend the University of Arizona and they had already received emails that their school would be only online after Spring Break. I was hoping ASU would do the same, just to get an extended Spring Break. We were notified that classes were going online a few days after we returned from Spring Break.

It was tough to get back into the groove of school when we were all on lockdown because you are reading the news of “x” number of new cases and “y” number of new deaths and it was hard to focus on school with a much bigger issue going on. Finishing our capstone project was also more difficult because, before COVID, we spent a lot of time in the lab doing testing and analysis as a team, but now the labs were closed. So, each member was given a multimeter to do testing on their own. Since we were doing the testing in our homes, our results varied. But we powered through and were able to finish our capstone project with solid results.

Throughout the shutdown, my EE professors did their best to make the best of a challenging situation. My professors were very reasonable to extend due dates and make office hours and TAs more accessible for students during this challenging time. This was a brand-new experience for them as well, so it took a little while for everyone to get adjusted to the new norm, but in the end, it worked out well. I especially would like to acknowledge my capstone/thesis mentor, Dr. Shamala Chickamenahalli. Dr. Chickamenahalli was very helpful and kept us focused on school towards the end of the semester when we lost some of our determination to finish. She was also very understanding and someone we could talk to about anything; academics or other topics. We would talk about personal problems, other classes, and the world as a whole. Thank you Dr. Chickamenahalli, for helping me get through this challenging time.

Graduation itself had a very different feeling to it. I think it was hard for many people because you just put in four years of hard work to earn this degree and there was no celebration for it, no graduation ceremony, no graduation parties, and people didn’t know how to feel about it. Yes, we did graduate, but it felt like we just finished another year of classes and would be back next semester.

As for the job market, I was very fortunate that Intel honored my full-time offer, and the tech sector wasn’t hit as hard by the pandemic, in general.  But not everyone was that fortunate. I had numerous friends whose offers were rescinded, and many companies were either no longer hiring or delaying start dates, so it was a challenging time for many new graduates. Many of my friends, who did very well academically but didn’t secure a job, have gone back to get their master’s degrees to advance their education while the job market recovers.

Now, having gone through a global pandemic, I will be able to tell my kids about the impact and all the repercussions that followed, including how boring it was not being able to leave the house for a few months. To pass the time, my roommate and I learned more about investments and the stock market, as well as working out on our own since health clubs were closed.

I am longing for the day that I will be able to go to a concert again or an ASU football game without the fear of getting sick. But since the pandemic has been going on six months, I’ve stopped guessing when that day will be, but I am very much looking forward to it.