BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- After more than a year of remote learning, interrupted traditions and stolen on-campus memories, Loyola University's graduating seniors will finally have their moment.
At a time when adversity seems to be the standard, the class of 2021 is fighting back.
"A challenge is never something you want to hide from," said Jack Donahue, who will graduate with a degree in writing.
Katie Shoemaker, who led an on-campus support group for struggling students as a result of the pandemic, is thrilled about the chance to have an actual graduation ceremony.
"Getting a cap and gown and actually having a day where you say this is my graduation day [that I] will be able to spend it with the rest of the senior class, I think that's surreal and super exciting," Shoemaker said.
Nearly overnight, the coronavirus pandemic ripped away the pomp and circumstance of this awaited milestone.
"There's so many first of your lasts and to kind of miss out on that is hard for all seniors," said Shoemaker.
The grades are in.
A new BestColleges.com study showed more than 95 percent of students nationwide are experiencing mental health symptoms triggered by the pandemic.
Nearly half of college students nationwide said their mental health battle directly interferes with their education performance and said they wrestle with social isolation and loneliness.
Dr. Jason Parcover leads the counseling center at Loyola. His role is crucial at a time where 97 percent of students nationwide are dealing with the death of a family member from Covid and 26 percent face financial hurdles.
"By far the number one issue that we work with is anxiety. We're also seeing a fair amount of depression, family challenges, economic stress.," Dr. Parcover explained. "It's been a scary time in that way, relationships and a lot of loss."
Dr. Parcover said the loss students are coping with right now has a lot to do with typical college life rituals and traditions.
The intertwining of the pandemic, our country's racial reckoning and the unrelenting cloud of uncertainty has caused a mental health crisis.
As students fight anxiety and depression on top of the normal stress of college itself, the Center for Disease Control tells WJZ one in four people ages 18 through 24 had "seriously considered suicide" in the last 30 days of their study, which was conducted late last year.
Despite those sharp and devastating figures, Dr. Parcover likens their resilience to the Japanese art form, Kintsugi.
"They take broken pottery and rather than discarding it and instead of putting it together and trying to hide the breaks, they take gold, and they line the cracks, and they bind it back together," said Dr. Parcover.
Jack wanted to go home to see his family back in Massachusetts over the break, but just couldn't make it happen. He said being trapped inside, in the same routine, was overwhelming.
"Thanksgiving [I spent] down here. I wasn't able to go home. Think those are the times where I came close to saying I can't do this anymore. I need to do something different, I need to get away," shared Jack.
Despite missing his family and friends, Jack used the extra time to take of his own healing. He began exercising and re-evaluate his scheduling.
"I think it's important for your self-care in this time," he said.
But for Katie, whose battle with covid kept her from celebrating the holidays with loved ones, the journey to adjust was a bit tougher.
"Everybody's anxiety levels have risen. College [is] a very anxiety-provoking four years and add a pandemic on top of it -- I think the two combined, it's just a lot of life transitions that nobody was really expecting to have, let alone expecting to go through and the struggles that come with that," said Katie.
Dr. Parcover said Loyola was quickly able to pivot, offering its students various online resources to aid in their healing. But he feels in-person care was crucial.
He also believes that treating the whole student--mind, body and soul, is central to moving forward in what will become a post-pandemic world.
"I think in addition to getting high quality therapy, is that they're also able to connect more with their peers," he added.
Together, stronger, the class of 2021 is proudly re-writing the end of this chapter.
"We've gotten through the last year it shows you can get through anything."
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