Graduates of 2020: ‘There are difficult challenges ahead but the future looks bright…’

“Education is the ability to meet life’s situations” a philosopher and academic called John Grier Hibben said many, many years ago – yet the advice is still as relevant for this year’s graduates.

A ‘baptism of fire’ to the world post-education may be putting it mildly for the graduates of 2020; who saw themselves submitting final-year projects online, receiving parchments through the post and celebrating the end to their degrees with a celebratory drink over video-chat with friends – all amid a global pandemic.

An unexpected ending…

As there are endings, there are also new beginnings – and many of them are in this month (September), with many graduate employment schemes and postgraduate courses beginning now, albeit in a different format to years gone by.

But, according to some of their former lecturers, the graduates of agriculture, food science and animal-related degrees across Ireland have overcome enough in order to face the challenges ahead with ease.

AgriLand got in touch with some lecturers, asking them what advice they have for those who finished their agriculture-related degree this year. 

Professor Alex Evans, head of the School of Agriculture and Food Science in University College Dublin (UCD), said his advice to graduates is for them to “make the most of challenges”, as they are “equipped with the education and skills” to succeed.

“I offer my congratulations to the graduates of 2020,” he said.

“As we have learned from 2020, the future is uncertain and full of challenges: make the most of these challenges as they arise; and embrace the unknown as opportunities to make a difference.”

Dr. Sharleen O’Reilly of UCD added that it is a “privilege” to have watched her students in nutrition grow during their years studying, and that graduates in this field around the country will be well-sought due to the pandemic.

“This year’s graduates have been faced with challenge after challenge in their final year and yet, it did not faze them,” she said.

“Their resilience and the grace with which they responded to each and every new challenge is a credit to them.

“The impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic is profound and we will need innovative and evidence-based solutions to help manage its impact on food systems and population health.

“My advice to our new graduates is to continue to follow your passion…

There is no career path that is straight and while Covid might throw some more curves in yours, it may also present you with an opportunity that you never knew existed.

Dr. Niamh Harbourne, lecturer in food science, said that graduates this year have displayed “innovation, adaptability, flexibility and dedication with enthusiasm and positivity” in the face of the pandemic.

“This group have developed skills and characteristics that will stand them in good stead as they face into a new world.

“We wish you luck on your journey, wherever it may take you and look forward to learning of your future success.

“Go n-éirí an t-ádh libh.”

‘The future looks bright’

Dr. Breda Brennan, head of Agriculture, Food and Animal Health at Dundalk Institute of Technology, said that “the future looks bright”.

“It has been an unexpectedly challenging year for all of us but you overcame the trials of lockdown and remote learning and you made it…you should all be very proud of your achievement,” Dr. Brennan said.

The agriculture industry is a vital part of the Irish economy, supporting our vibrant indigenous food sector, contributing to the wider bio-economy and ensuring the long-term preservation of our rural communities.

“There are difficult challenges ahead for Irish agriculture but the future looks bright.

“I wish you all the very best in the exciting years to come.”