GW and its alumni are working to help the university’s most recent grads, who are facing the worst U.S. economy in a decade and the most virulent public health crisis in 100 years.
By Matthew Stoss
The COVID-19 pandemic really shorted the graduating classes of 2020.
At GW, it cost nearly 3,000 undergrads the last months of their senior years and a proper commencement. Then it marooned them in the worst U.S. job market in a decade. When 2020 grads hit the real world last May, unemployment, after a historic bout of pandemic-motivated job-cutting by companies, sat at around 14 percent. Those are Great Depression-esque numbers and more than triple what they were at the same time last year.
“A lot of my friends didn’t realize the last time I saw them was going to be the last time I saw them,” Melody Asadpour, BBA ’20, says. “One went to grad school in Colorado, one went to Pittsburgh. There was no graduation, so I don’t know when we can see each other and be emotional. But I also really wanted to hear someone say my name and walk across the stage and shake someone’s hand. I don’t know, I think it was more for my family. My mom and my dad went through so much to get me through college.”
Asadpour is among the more fortunate. She got a tech consultant position at Capgemini Government Solutions, a federal contractor in McLean, Va., in October 2019 with the help of the GW Center for Career Services. The job was waiting for her when she graduated.
Now, the 22-year-old Asadpour and other alums, along with the Office of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving and the GW Alumni Association, are trying to help the class of 2020. They’re telephoning and emailing these most recent of graduates to check in, say hi, facilitate networking and point them toward GW’s alumni resources.
“We know that the class has graduated amidst the drop back of the COVID-19 pandemic, in unprecedented times, and they’re facing challenges that previous grads haven’t faced,” says Maggie Richard, BA ’03, MA ’14, an executive director of alumni relations who’s worked at GW for 14 years. “We see this as an opportunity to better engage our alumni community in the class 2020.”
Through GW Career Connect—as well as the GWAA’s 38,000-member-plus LinkedIn group—there are chances for alums and students to meet and greet. It also offers webinars and professional-development opportunities. Locally, alums can sign up for updates about regional, industry and affinity networks in their areas. These include dates and times for virtual events. Some of those events involve career advice and expert talks about current events while other programming is more diversionary, offering internet-only happy hours and trivia contests.
Amanda Notarangelo, BA ’09, is the co-chair of GW’s Boston alumni network, which has about 5,000 members and has been planning and hosting cyber to-dos on Zoom. Its trivia nights have breakout rooms for teams to answer questions about the university, George Washington and of course “general, random useless trivia” to win prizes such as t-shirts and hats.
Notarangelo says she’s participated in virtual events planned and produced by other alums. One was on the pandemic’s effect on mental health. Another was a talk about race relations.
“They’ve been doing a good job of regularly putting out programming options that are very timely,” says Notarangelo, who’s been active in alumni networks since graduating, which happened the last time the U.S. economy fell down a hole. She matriculated during the recession of the late 2000s and found a job, her first after college, through GW’s job board. Today she’s an area development manager at Holland & Knight, a law firm in Cambridge, Mass.
“I graduated at the worst part of the last recession,” says Notarangelo, who spent months picking up hourly work at a catering service before landing a full-time job at a Washington, D.C., public relations firm in July 2009. “I remember how stressful it was, and then this current class is dealing with the same uncertainty—but dialed up to 11. In addition to a recession, they have a pandemic.
“Obviously it’s not the same experience. I would argue they got dealt the worst hand, but I definitely can empathize with what they’re going through. And if me doing some outreach can help make things a little bit easier, I’m definitely all in and willing to do it.”
Donell Cohen, BA ’64, started with GW’s Los Angeles alumni chapter about 15 years ago and now serves on its 14-person leadership committee. Like the Boston enclave, L.A. claims about 5,000 members.
A patient-accounting manager at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, Cohen and the other members of the committee have divvied among them a group of 138 L.A.-based 2020 grads. They’re emailing and calling to let them know the alumni network is there and ready to help.
“I consider GW my school. This is something I’ve always felt,” says Cohen, who also has a master’s in public health from UCLA. “It’s important that if you’re able to give back in some way—to encourage and support things—you should.”
Cohen says in the olden times before masks, physical distancing and stay-at-home orders, the L.A. group held sendoff parties for GW students as they departed for their first year. It also organized networking and mingling-type events.
The coronavirus, obviously, makes that impossible nowadays, so everything’s migrated to the internet, including Colonials Weekend.
Scheduled this year for Oct. 1-3, the annual fall on-campus alumni gathering, which hosts reunions, music, food, tours, lectures and sports, will be all-virtual.
The 2020 highlights include an auctioning of Thurston Hall room plates, a state-of-GW message from President Thomas LeBlanc, a political discourse on race and identity politics and a “zero year” reunion for the class of 2020. Traditionally, classes have reunions every five years.
“I’m just trying to find a way to make that special because we didn’t get the chance to finish our career,” says Asadpour who is part of the group planning the 2020 reunion. “We didn’t get to say goodbye.”
Asadpour, a central New Jersey native who got her consultant job through the GW job board, started with the GW alumni office while still in school. Notably, she helped mastermind an orientation program for new students, including the opening event: the Buff and Blue Bash. Asadpour wrote scripts for the evening’s MC, handled vendors, helped book a guest speaker and essentially acted as the event’s producer, running the affair from behind the scenes.
“I worked as a student worker since I was a sophomore, so I know all the cool stuff you can do as an alum,” Asadpour says. “... There are so many cool things that you can volunteer for and there are different resources that alums have access to. Did you know you can keep your GW email as an alum?
“... I just wanted to stay involved. GW made me who I am today and gave me the life I had today.”
Even if it did start sooner than expected. But at least there was this.
“My mom was happy to have me home,” Asadpour says, laughing.