Today is National Graduates Day in the UK, and this year‘s students – especially graduates – have been through a year unmatched.
It is important to highlight the resilience and achievements of graduates from the class of 2020, in recognition of the difficulties they have faced due to COVID-19. Some students have been on the front line as key workers, some have taken care of their family members, or even fallen sick themselves. Others have returned to their home countries or home towns in the UK, and yet, this year‘s graduates have all persevered and been able to complete their degrees in the midst of unprecedented challenges. Students have had to adapt to new ways of learning whilst adapting to a new lifestyle and a new norm.
While all students have been isolated and limited to their own houses, or even shared bedrooms, it has been extraordinary to witness the solidarity of students and how they have come together to support each other mentally, emotionally, and academically.
I interviewed Samar Ismail (BA African Studies and Politics), Khulan Davaajav (BA International Relations and Hebrew), and Nida Iqbal (Law LLB), who are all new graduates from SOAS this year. They provided some further insights into life at SOAS, and what they’ve learned throughout this year.
What will you miss about SOAS the most?
Samir: One thing I will miss about SOAS is the people who make SOAS – the lectures, students and staff. I have been able to connect with all people across.
Khulan: One thing that I will miss about SOAS is having my views and opinions challenged. There is always someone who has a different opinion, and you will get into a productive arguments trying to understand each other’s perspectives.
Nida: I will miss the sense of community and unity I felt at SOAS. I have studied in various different schools in France and in England, but my experience at SOAS remains unmatched. Other than that, to learn about the law across Asia and Africa is also something that I will miss, as SOAS is one of the very few universities which opens this particular gateway to students – by enabling them to immerse themselves in studying subjects from a global perspective.
What was the most memorable part of your university experience?
Samir: Performing my poetry at the JCR and being able to express myself and thoughts. Truly a blessed moment for me – and a memorable one. Plus meeting friends that I can genuinely call friends for life.
Khulan: The most memorable experience I had at SOAS was organising student events, especially when I invited the Israeli Ambassador to speak.
Nida: I have had several jobs at SOAS, such as working as a Student Ambassador, a language student ambassador, working in the SU Shop, and working as a Marketing & Recruitment Assistant. I believe these jobs were my most memorable experience as I met people from all walks of life, and learned new skills all by staying at university, which was very convenient. I made friends from different courses and also had two bake sales in order to raise money for the Malala Fund & Islamic Relief, for which we climbed Mount Snowdon as part of SOAS Charity Week.
What did you learn from going through the pandemic as a student?
Samir: Throughout the pandemic, I have been working as a key worker, whilst trying to find the best way for me to finish my degree. I wouldn’t say that I adapted a new way of learning, but I learned how to push through and bring it right from my core. There was times I thought that I couldn’t do it and be able. I was already suffering with self-doubt in that regard, me being a mature student and all. Nonetheless, I somehow found this courage, and it’s the same courage that changed my life to begin with. Now I know I can conquer anything I put my mind into, despite the obstacles, even if it is systemic racism, I will persevere.
Khulan: One thing that the pandemic has thought us is that nothing in life is certain. Live in the moment and enjoy what you have now, because it may not be there tomorrow. I wish I went to my classes when I was slightly lazy and I wanted to stay in bed, because once the pandemic started, I couldn’t see my professors and classmates in person anymore.
Nida: We are currently living through an unprecedented time, and being a final year student having to deal with COVID-19 has been far from easy. However, the support received from SOAS when it came to exams, and other support from the SOAS learning services, Careers, and Wellbeing has allowed us to remain calm during such a stressful period whilst simultaneously challenging ourselves and graduating knowing we did our best with the help of an institution which put its students first.
Do you have any messages for new students starting in September?
Samir: Enjoy every moment, allow yourself to learn from your mistakes. Remember it’s a marathon and not a sprint, so be steady and pace yourself. Be welcoming to new ideas and beliefs. You already took the massive step by coming to university, so please do be proud. Grades don’t matter, it’s what you learn and how you use it that truly matters.
Khulan: As soon as you start university, go to the SOAS Careers service to plan your life post-university. You will need to get internships, you will need to get part-time jobs, you will need to get some sort of experience before you graduate to be able to find a job after you graduate. So, go to the SOAS Careers service.
Nida: To all the new students starting this September, I would like to welcome you! Make sure to enjoy your time at SOAS and remember to make the most of it. Join societies, talk to people (in and OUT of your course), make sure to get out of your comfort zone and experience things you have not experienced before. These 3/4 years will fly by, and your aim should be to get a degree and take a whole bunch of happy memories with you. If you feel like you haven’t found your people at the start of the year, just know it’s normal to feel that way; give it a few weeks and you’ll be living the best time of your life in no time.
It will be interesting to follow the class of 2020 and to see where they will go. This year‘s graduates have already been challenged beyond the unthinkable and are well prepared to take on the challenges of tomorrow.
Rut Einarsdóttir is a SOAS Digital Ambassador and Operations Manager for SCRAP Weapons, a project for global disarmament in the CISD Department at SOAS, currently pursuing a MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development.
As part of National Graduates Day, you can join in the conversation on Unibuddy – or post your own experiences on social media tagging @soas (Twitter) or @soasuni (Instagram) with the hashtags #WeAreTogether and #2020MADEUS.
Featured image: SOAS Graduation 2014