By Tyler Wilkins

As soon as I watched fireworks flash across my computer screen on the University of Georgia’s website, I felt ecstatic. I didn’t expect to gain acceptance to UGA, as my SAT scores and high school GPA were nothing but average. In that moment, I knew that’s where I wanted to attend college. I needed to tell someone.

I haphazardly called my mom, nearly spilling a cup of coffee on the virtual acceptance screen I had eagerly awaited. But my mom didn’t tell me “Congratulations!” or “I’m so proud of you!” when I first told her the news. Instead, she chuckled, “Do you have UGA money?”

I hope not to imply that my parents weren’t proud of me, as they most certainly were and still are excited when I start a new adventure. At the beginning of every semester, my mom asks me to buy her a new “Mama Dawg” T-shirt from the university’s bookstore.

But the first sentence she uttered over that phone call led to the realization that I needed to figure out how to pay for college, considering the HOPE scholarship, a state-sponsored scholarship which covers 80% of tuition, wouldn’t cover all of the costs and my parents couldn’t pay the rest of my tuition.

Clearly, I made it to college. I told myself, “I’ll figure it out; I always do,” a phrase which gets me through life’s challenges. I took out student loans, like many other American college students. I lived at my parent’s house and commuted 20 minutes to campus every day my first year to avoid paying the costs of dorm life.

As I reflect on that day, I realize I’m in a similar predicament now. With graduation right around the corner during a global pandemic, it feels like staring into an abyss. It’s hard enough to find a decent-paying job in the journalism industry without a looming health scare and economic recession staring me in the face.

Friends tell me not to accept the first job offer that I receive, that I should wait until the right job comes along. But what if that “right job” doesn’t come along until six months after graduation? My parents aren’t expecting their 22-year-old son to move home and take a “gap semester.”

Frankly, they have their own financial responsibilities without caring for a grown adult.

I understand I likely won’t land my ideal, perfect job fresh out of college. But I also expect to be paid a living wage, especially considering how hard I worked for my degrees, spending late nights studying and working sometimes two to three jobs to make ends meet.

As I stare down career abyss, I realize there must be an end in sight. I have no choice but to jump, either barreling into a passionless job with low pay or one for which I’m excited to show up every day. But I’ll never know until I make that leap.

I value the education, experience and skills I acquired in college, but, more importantly, I appreciate the perseverance I have built. My mom always told me I can do anything to which I put my mind. As cliché of a statement as that is, I still believe her. To all of the college graduates about to enter this uncertain period of their lives, who are standing on the precipice of entering the workforce–we’ll figure it out; we always do.

Tyler Wilkins is studying journalism at the University of Georgia. He is a 2020 Cox-SABEW Fellow, a training program in partnership with UGA’s Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management & Leadership.