I Felt Like A Failure: A Critical Analysis of Sarah Hoffmann’s
“What the Pandemic Has Done to the Class of 2020”
A 2020 graduate Allyson Prater, M.A., explained how her pandemic graduation was “just another Thursday.” When asked how she felt about not being able to walk the stage due to lockdown restrictions, she stated, “it was just me defending my thesis on Zoom, trying to be happy even though I was terrified and sad. I worked very hard, and my family was so proud of what I accomplished, but in a way, I felt like I let everyone down. It felt anticlimactic and just depressing.” Sarah Hoffmann accurately and closely portrays the negative effect of the global pandemic on recent graduates in her Atlantic piece “What the Pandemic Has Done to the Class of 2020.” Through strategic arguments outlining experiences, Hoffmann effectively captures the attention of her audience by gaining trust and changing perceptions that may have previously been in place.
Recent graduate Sarah Hoffmann, a freelance writer based in Kentucky, graduated from Kenyon College, a private liberal arts university in Ohio, during the height of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Hoffmann establishes her rhetoric ethos by explaining her background and validity to her audience. Her published Atlantic essay “What the Pandemic Has Done to the Class of 2020” speaks to an understanding of the global pandemic’s effect concerning her involvement as a new alumna. Hoffmann eloquently examines the repercussions on graduates from being “cast out into a world plagued by an actual plague.” Hoffmann begins the piece by referencing a classic 1995 Noah Baumbach film, in which a group of students at their graduation party ponders their next move after college: “Today I am a student…Tomorrow these identities will fall away, and I will have no idea who or what I am anymore.” By referencing this specific film, Hoffmann’s piece now has a broader reach, which feels almost like she is specifically targeting a particular generation. However, “What the Pandemic Has Done to the Class of 2020” is not limited to a target audience of recent graduates; this piece is written as a means of explanation for anyone that chooses to understand.
Sarah Hoffmann’s article, “What the Pandemic Has Done to the Class of 2020”, aims to bring awareness and understanding to the challenges presented to new college graduates during the global pandemic. Unfortunately, Hoffmann claims, “the pandemic has made a soft landing impossible for many college graduates.” This substantial claim is supported by an Atlantic piece written by Amanda Hull and referenced by Hoffmann, stating an account of how the pandemic had affected the economy; “minimal economic relief, suffering businesses, and countless layoffs and furloughs.” In addition, the state of caution brought by the pandemic caused many universities to go into a complete lockdown, with faculty and students remaining at home. Hoffmann flawlessly defines the uncertainty for the graduating class with raw emotion directed toward her audience. “I oscillate between being fine with where I’m at and being terrified that my life is over before it even started,” states Hoffmann when explaining how she has yet to be able to find a full-time career and use her degree.
Sarah Hoffmann’s use of the rhetorical device of pathos throughout her Atlantic piece is the reason for her success as a writer. Hoffmann not only gives the reader a look into her daily life but also interviews recent college graduates struggling through the pandemic. These interviews appeal to her audience by showcasing the many negatives and limited positives resulting from graduating in 2020. Hoffmann seamlessly weaves her experiences and others, including many statistical examples, to help prove her argument. For example, Hoffmann describes how “unemployment among 16-to-24-year-olds is still the highest it’s been since 2015” and speaks of an interview with an economics professor at UC Berkley, Jesse Rothstein. Rothstein explains how “damage can hinder educational attainment, family formation, and economic mobility not just for the individual but for future generations of their family.” Hoffmann’s use of logos in her essay helps the reader see her argument’s potency and gravity: “The identities and futures of the class of 2020 are tied to this once-in-a-lifetime crisis.”
I recently asked Allyson Prater, M.A., a high-school English teacher who graduated with the class of 2020, how the pandemic affected her college experience. Prater explained: I was teaching part-time as a graduate assistant, writing my thesis, and working a full-time job simultaneously. When the pandemic hit, I got laid off. I had to figure out how to be a part-time online professor’s assistant while navigating writing a master’s thesis from an eight-hundred-square-foot apartment. It was exhausting and honestly ridiculously difficult. I graduated in May 2020 and planned on transitioning to a full-time professor at my university, but due to the pandemic, there was no more extended funding for that position. Jobs at most higher education facilities were cutting funding and pulling employment postings. I honestly didn’t think I would get a job in my degree field or even my home state. I had over 100 rejections and “no longer available” letters in my email box. It was lonely, and I was furious at myself for getting my degree in literature. I started feeling like a failure.
Prater continues to explain how these pandemic-initiated slammed doors were “incredibly overwhelming” for her twenty-three-year-old self. In concurrence, Sarah Hoffmann’s piece displays how these feelings were consistent for the Class of 2020. She explains that graduating during the pandemic left students with “frustration and fear” (Hoffmann). Prater and Hoffmann’s mutual graduation experiences demonstrate the shared concern and apprehension caused by this unparalleled universal occurrence for recent graduates.
By means of The Atlantic article “What the Pandemic Has Done to the Class of 2020”, Hoffmann expertly crafts her vision of the uncertainty of the newest generation of collegiates for her audience. Moreover, Hoffmann skillfully projects her claim in an entertaining and meaningful way. By purposefully forming her argument and using rhetorical techniques to prove her stance, Hoffmann’s piece captures the attention of all readers, young and old.
Hoffmann, Sarah. “What the Pandemic Has Done to the Class of 2020: It Has Made a Soft Landing Impossible for Many Graduates.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group, 16 April 2023.
https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2021/04/what-pandemic-has-done-class-2 020/618614/. Accessed on 16 February 2023.
Prater, Allyson. Personal Interview. 13 February 2023.