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Dispatch from Islamabad: graduating university with dreams cut short

Aleeyah Rizvi is among the tens of thousands of college seniors around the globe who were set to graduate this month before the pandemic shut down most university campuses.

Pre-lock down life: Aleeyah acting in a short film, at Golra Railway Station in Islamabad

She's anxious about entering the next phase of her life at the start of a severe recession. Experts predict 18 million Pakistanis could lose their jobs in the coming months, and a third of the population could end up living below the poverty line.

Aleeyah's university is not holding a graduation ceremony even though Pakistan relaxed its national lock down this week, with big cities seeing long lines of people outside shops and malls.

Reported cases of Covid-19 continue to rise in Pakistan, and there are fears that the Eid festival marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan could spark new outbreaks of the virus next weekend.

For Aleeyah an ambitious film major at the National University of Science and Technology it's been a lot to wrap her head around.

HOW ARE YOU GETTING BY? This year was meant to be the pinnacle of self-discovery, and would bring forth elements I’d be proud of myself for, for the rest of my life: 2020, the year I graduate – and, specifically, the year I get my degree in a subject no one believed would get me anywhere – a subject which is quite literally the only thing in life I’m passionate about – this had to be My Year. I’m a control freak by nature, I like to be aware of every aspect of my life, every possible direction any decision could take me to, every probable consequence of every step I take – I analyze it to an unhealthy extent.

Shooting a short film, in the days before social distancing

So, for someone who had meticulously planned out this year to churn out the best film she’s ever made, the most wholesome graduation she could have, and fly into the world of academia that she’d dreamt about, a global pandemic was not on my radar. At all. For the world to tell me, one fine morning, that neither me nor anyone around me could tell what tomorrow will bring, it sent me into a quite predictable emotional breakdown.

I had way too many questions that no one could answer for me: What will become of my film? When will I graduate? Will I ever step foot in my department again? How will I apply to graduate school? Could I even go to my dream graduate school in this economy? Will I ever get a job? So many questions, and the only answer anyone had for me was, ‘I don’t know.' And I hate not knowing. So, for the first few weeks of this new ‘normal,' I was a wreck trying to undo a situation which had taken over the world.

Aleeyah says she struggles to find enough "head space" when working at home during lock down

It took me over a month to find my bearings and understand that I couldn’t always have every possibility mapped out. And that was the hardest thing to come to terms with: the fact that I really didn’t know. It’s really easy to feel like you’re the only one being affected by a crisis, no matter the magnitude.

So, to realize and truly accept that the entire world is, in fact, as clueless as you are, it’s oddly terrifying and calming simultaneously. Because while the pandemic plunged the entire world into crisis together, it also created an eerie correlation a feeling that had been completely missing for decades.

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