Students tackling uncertainty and challenge must grasp the nettle

University library 
(Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash via Jewish News )
University library (Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash via Jewish News )

Everyone in the country is currently experiencing difficulties relating to the coronavirus pandemic, as this week’s unemployment figures show, and final year undergraduate students like me are no different, as we look ahead to a post-lockdown future.

Like the vast majority of campuses, the University of Birmingham has closed its doors for the rest of the academic year. For many, uncertainty has arrived in the form of online exams, which have to be completed without access to a library, academic support or even the proper means to work. I am fortunate enough to feel equipped to sit my exams, so my own concerns centre on what comes after.

My pre-pandemic plan was a celebratory final summer with heartfelt goodbyes, a proud graduation moment, some mellow time basking in the Israeli sun, a music festival or two, the opportunity for an internship, then moving to London to begin a Master’s degree. Most of that will now not happen and the rest is in doubt.

There is a tremendous sense of loss for final years. Thinking nostalgically of where I was a year ago, it’s painful to know that I won’t have the same final bittersweet ending to university that so many have enjoyed. Unknowingly, this year’s Purim party became the final university event for many graduating J-Soc (Jewish Society) members, who will now go without their Leavers Shabbat.

From speaking to my fellow students, alongside their doubt about being able to perform academically under such difficult conditions, many feel demotivated because there is no longer that same light at the end of the tunnel.

I believe that this is an important and defining moment for us as we try to make the best of a bad situation. We are sitting our degrees under the most problematic conditions for decades. However, whilst this has made everything harder, it has added an intrinsic value to our achievement that no other year can own. Whatever classification our degrees may be, they will have an increased value simply because of the incredibly difficult circumstances within which they were completed.

Similarly, I feel employers will place increased importance on this section of our CVs, asking how we made best use of this time, and how we managed to enhance our skills under lockdown. We may have brushed up on our Hebrew, completed an online experience program or LinkedIn course, or even wrote blogs for the Union of Jewish Students.

From these times of great difficulty, silver-linings can be found. Whether that is the communal moment of thousands attending a livestreamed Shabbat service, or heart-warming moments of selflessness, such as delivering kosher meals to the vulnerable. My personal silver linings from lockdown restrictions have included some ferocious and hilarious challah bake-offs in my household. I have also thoroughly enjoyed a weekly Jewish and Israeli film discussion group, which has proved fascinating and ensured the continuation of the classic Jewish hobby of debate.

I believe that if you can produce something positive during this trialling period, you can feel confident that it represents a resilience and drive that will not go unnoticed. Individual growth will also help beat the lockdown blues, and we will each take our own path. For me, I have been trying to further involve myself with Holocaust education, and was lucky enough to discuss my family’s story with Jewish students as part of the Yom Ha’Shoah commemoration with UJS – perhaps something I never would have done without these conditions.

If the pandemic has taught me anything, though, it is that your health must always come first. This situation is already stressful and disheartening as it is. Don’t add further pressure by setting unattainable goals, only do what you feel able to do. It doesn’t matter if you channel your energy into completing your degree or becoming fluent in Ivrit. Whatever it is, it will not go unnoticed.

About the Author
Josh Mercer is a final year student at the University of Birmingham