By Tristan Lorei, contributor
Gabby Denford, an intelligence analysis major at JMU, had received in March the news she had been waiting for: she had been extended an offer for her dream job as a threat intelligence officer for the firm Control Risks Group in D.C. But this was March — at the same time America was gradually shutting down and JMU classes were shifting online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Denford’s initial excitement and sense of security didn’t last. In April, the firm rescinded the offer as the result of a hiring freeze.
“With graduation being taken away and senior year being taken away, it just felt like everything was being taken away,” Denford said. “It felt like I was a failure even though I knew it wasn’t personal.”
Since April, Denford has spent each morning job hunting and talking to recruiters and received her first call-back for an interview this month after four months of waking up daily to rejection letters.
Denford is among many graduates of the class of 2020 who have struggled to land jobs amid the pandemic as companies and businesses pulled back, shut down or closed their doors permanently.
Anna Vastardis, a JMU nursing major, managed to secure a job. But instead of starting right after a May graduation ceremony, the position was on hold until earlier this month.
Vastardis received a job offer from Sentara Norfolk General Hospital to work as part of the adult health rotational team — or AHEART — that works primarily with adult surgery patients. She accepted the position a week after JMU had announced online classes for the remainder of the spring semester. Instead of being excited about the job, however, she said she dealt with anxiety when she found out that COVID-19 was spreading and her job might be affected.
When she came back to JMU to clear out of her apartment a few weeks later, she received a call from her nurse recruiter saying her job was now “up in the air” because the rotational team’s services weren’t in high demand during the pandemic.
“When I was told this just after I just accepted the job — that was frightening because it’s like ‘am I about to be a new nurse who needs that experience most of all, but they don’t need me?'” Vastardis said.
Since accepting the job in March, Vastardis took the National Council Licensure Examination and was assigned to a cohort that would be trained in August. Her first visit to the hospital was just a few weeks ago, however, as all of her training was also done online.
“We’re orienting to the hospital, so my manager was trying to show us different parts of the hospital that we need to know for when we start working, and we weren’t even allowed to go into those parts of the hospital because of Covid,” Vastardis said.
Ester Jon, who graduated from JMU’s School of Media Arts and Design, said she hasn’t been able to secure a job since the start of the pandemic. Jon says she has applied to at least 50 different jobs but only heard back from about 20 — the majority of which she says were pyramid schemes.
Still, Jon said she has viewed last view months as being beneficial to growth and development.
“It’s not bad because we can spend this time growing our skills and adjusting and seeing how fast our environments can change,” Jon said.
And that kind of positive outlook is what many members of the class of 2020 are clinging to as they continue their search for what comes next.
“I’m reminding myself that today is not my forever,” Denford said, “and everyone is going through some kind of loss right now.”
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