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Jack Jones Graduation 2022
The Jones family celebrates the achievement of 2022 graduate Jack Jones.

By Richard Burnett

Emily Marra finds herself in two quite different places mentally these days. On one hand, the 2022 Beacon College graduate is gearing up for the job of a lifetime this fall as a dorm resident director for Beacon’s semester abroad in Tuscany, Italy.

Until then, she’s unemployed and hunting a summer job.

“It’s a great time, really, and so exciting. I can’t believe graduation is here,” said the Class of 2022’s valedictorian, a fine arts major and award-winning artist. “At the same time, it’s bittersweet. This has been my home for the last four years and now, well, it’s time to take the next steps in life, you know.”

Those first steps came with the pomp and circumstance of the 32nd Beacon College Commencement exercises on May 7, 2022 at the Brownwood Hotel & Spa in the Villages, Florida.

For members of Beacon’s Class of 2022, it is the best of times, but the most unsettling of times, as they reach the milestone of graduation and look ahead to entering the “real world.”

In a period when pandemic fears have eased and employers are said to be hiring again, opportunity seems to beckon graduates these days. At the same time, however, inflation is soaring, war is roiling the world, recession talk is spreading and Covid-19 cases are rebounding.

Still, Beacon’s newest graduates are well-equipped to face those crosscurrents, having persevered through the pandemic adversity, President Dr. George Hagerty said. The Class of ’22 navigated an unprecedented moment in U.S. higher education, shouldering responsibilities few classes have faced in history, he said.

“Those of us who are privileged to educate and serve this remarkable graduating class know full well that their collective and individual talents — tested and sharpened in a time of inescapable challenge — bode well for futures undaunted by social and economic change,” Hagerty said. “Their success in this endeavor is the college’s most enduring legacy.”

Beacon graduation’s ‘stellar scorecard’

The latest senior class turned in another stellar scorecard for the college’s mission to serve students with learning differences: Nearly 100 seniors received their degrees on May 7, an increase of 165% from eight years ago, according to Beacon’s data collection and reporting office. Enrollment has doubled since 2014, reaching a record 441 students in fall 2021.

As newly-minted graduates explore the job market, there are some positive indicators, despite the economy’s current uncertainty:

Companies plan to hire 31% more graduates from the Class of ‘22 than from 2021, according to an April survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. That would be the highest percentage increase in a decade, the NACE survey says.
More than 80% of new graduates are confident they’ll get a job offer in their career area and the pay will better as many companies are boosting their entry level salaries, according to a survey by Monster.com.

Those surveys could bode well for Beacon graduates in certain fields, especially information technology, web design, and business management, noted Esteban Lopez, Beacon director of cooperative education. Many other graduates land jobs in areas such as hospitality business, human services/psychology, education and animal science and services.

Overall, employment of new Beacon graduates began to recover last year after a major decline in the 2020 pandemic year, Lopez said. After reaching a pre-pandemic high in 2019 when 85% were employed at graduation, the total fell to 54% in 2020. Last year, it sprang back to 72% of graduates who were employed at graduation, and that trend is expected to continue in 2022.

“Now with the pandemic somewhat in our rearview mirror, we are seeing the job market is better and the jobs are back,” said Lopez, an economist. “But some of the salaries being offered are not that good, and the income is not keeping pace because of inflation.”

The ‘next level’ of career development

All factors considered, Beacon’s success rate ranks among the highest in U.S. higher education in terms of finding jobs for its graduates, he said.

With its comprehensive career development program customized for those with learning disabilities, Beacon places three times more students in jobs than conventional universities do, he said. Among other things, the program focuses on resume writing, interview skills, mentoring, workplace learning, internships and collaboration with employers.

Provost Dr. Shelly Chandler said the college plans to take the program to the next level in the coming year: “We are currently revisioning our Career Development Center and determining how to improve services,” she said. “We hope to have a new system in place in the fall where, for example, we require student visits instead of just providing optional services.”

‘Don’t blink’

For graduates like Marra, things appear to be coming together well for her career path — from being active in arts advocacy and education to starting her own art studio one day. When asked what advice she would offer future graduates, she drew from a song by country music star Kenny Chesney:

“I think I would say don’t blink,” she said. “It all goes by so fast. Just the past few semesters just flew by. It was gone really quickly. So I would say enjoy every minute of it. Take a break [from work] and spend time with friends when you can. Soon enough everyone will go their separate ways. Sure, there’s phone and texting, but that’s not like being in person. And those relationships mean so, so much.”