Class of 2020: Graduating with uncertainty amidst COVID-19

By Elyana Sofia

Graduation Day may be one of the most awaited events of the year for many final year students as it marks the celebration of all the blood, sweat and tears throughout four years of education. It is the transition from being a student into becoming a fully grown adult ready to enter the job market. 

Since COVID-19 hit the world in December 2019, everything seems to be blurred. The education sector has been greatly affected by many universities halting campus-based teaching and learning with unprecedented public health measures being carried out.

The impact of COVID-19 lingers since June this year, with precautionary measures still in place in Malaysia, celebration events have been restricted, and students’ college life has been brought to an abrupt end. 

Ezzat Fakhrawi, a graduating student of Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Puncak Alam, has always looked forward to the graduation day after four years of endless struggle majoring in BSc. (Honours) in Architecture.

The third sibling of four shared that graduating during COVID-19 was not something that he has ever thought of.

“My batch has planned for our graduation night to celebrate our final time together. I was assigned as Project Manager and we have booked a hotel that was supposed to be the venue of our Graduation Night,” Ezzat reiterated.

A recipient of the Vice-Chancellor Award, Ezzat has shown remarkable academic achievements during his secondary school years at Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), Perak.

With his astounding result during the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), he was selected to pursue a degree in Architecture when he was just 18 years old under the fast track programme held by Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM).

While many during his age were still doing diploma or matriculation, Ezzat has shown an astounding performance with a Grade Average Point (GPA) of 3.90 during his final semester in UiTM and consistently scored the Dean’s List Award for eight semesters consecutively. 

Despite his excellence in academics, he admitted that online distance learning has deteriorated his motivation to study.

“It was hard to learn the subjects through online learning because the Architecture course requires hands-on guidance from lecturers especially when we have to constantly conduct presentations for our final year project,” he shared. 

Bidding farewell forever

Asked when the last time he met his friends, Ezzat said, “We were given short notice to clear the hostel in just two days. When we heard the news, I took the chance to take as many pictures as I could. and thinking maybe after March ends, we will meet again. But after the first conditional movement control order (CMCO) was extended day by day, I realised that was our last time meeting each other.” 

Ezzat shared that during the announcement he was preparing for his final year project which was chosen to represent UiTM to compete with other universities across Malaysia. The event was supposed to be held in May but due to the pandemic, it was cancelled. He said he had made preparations since January and spent sleepless nights finishing the project.

An advocate of environmental protection, he created a project named “Tebar” inspired by Hijjas Kasturi and Zaha Hadid’s deconstructivist style which received recommendations from his lecturers.

The project is a combination of communal living in a sustainable environment. With an aerodynamic design, he named the project “Tebar” to exhibit the contribution of fishermen in developing Teluk Ketapang as a tourist hotspot in Pulau Pangkor, Perak.  

“After the CMCO was lifted, I went to UiTM to collect my belongings and the feeling was surreal. When I first entered my room where I stayed in for a year with my fellow roommates, it felt empty. We used to laugh together in the common room, performing congregational prayer every Subuh and burning the midnight oil every night,” he flash-backed. 

Convocation Day

Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, the 22-year old shared his hopes for the Convocation ceremony: “UiTM would normally hold convocation ceremony twice a year. My senior from the previous batch did not have a convocation ceremony because of COVID-19. Most of them received their certificates through postage from the university.

I can’t imagine receiving my degree certificates virtually after all the hard work. I hope next year we can celebrate the convocation ceremony like we always did.”

Ezzat also shared that with Convocation Day expected to be in April 2021, he wished for his parents to be able to attend this auspicious occasion. The 5895 km distance between Qatar and Malaysia had separated them from seeing each other for almost a year.

“The last time I met my parents was during the Aidil Fitri celebration for only two weeks. My father works as a Senior Quantity Surveyor at Doha, Qatar. I hope by next year the borders between Malaysia and Qatar will be lifted. Life has been quite challenging especially when we are contacting through video calls only.”

He shared that sometimes the line was not stable and Qatar has banned a few virtual platforms such as WhatsApp and Instagram video calls and he would normally conduct zoom meetings with his parents. 

“Sometimes it feels like attending virtual classes,” he joked. 

Job seeking and future plans

With the current financial crisis following the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment rate rocketed to the highest level in three years with an estimated figure of 74,500 unemployed as recorded in July this year by the Department of Statistics, Malaysia.

Moreover, the CMCO period has greatly affected the construction industries with a decline of 60% from a peak of RM273 billion in 2016 to RM106 billion in 2018 as reported by Param Sivalingam, former project director of MRT Serdang-Sungai Buloh line. 

Since June this year, Ezzat has started his job search by attending job fairs and submitting his resume to countless construction companies. With his excellent scores, he can instantly land on a job after graduation. Due to the pandemic, he waited for almost a month to finally receive a phone call. 

He said: “I felt so anxious when I didn’t receive any call after I graduated but after the first call, I felt so much relieved.”

He shared his experience during the first interview with a company in Shah Alam where he spent six hours in the firm being interviewed by the CEO himself.

“No doubt that was the most tiring interview session I have atended, but I am honoured to have had the experience,” he shared. After the interview ended, he was told to wait until November for another phone call to be appointed as Assistant Architect at the company. 

Moving forward

“Although life may be full of uncertainty, with effort and determination, hopefully, I can finally realise my childhood dream,” Ezzat said.

As a Department of Public Service (JPA) scholar, Ezzat wanted to pursue his postgraduate study for a master degree in Architecture at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

His application stems from his desire to study at one of the best universities in the world. He hoped things will get back to normal by next year so he could pursue his masters abroad to fulfil his dream.***

Ezzat with his friends during their first year of undergraduate

(This article is written as part of individual assignment series for Feature Writing class)

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