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SVA Alumni Who Graduated During Hardship Offer Their Advice During COVID-19

Words of hope and advice from alumni to the Class of 2020

May 13, 2020 by Sheilah Ledwidge
collage of colors and words from depressing news
Credit: Staticsync
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"Unfortunately, we don't get to choose the times that we are in. But here's the good news: you're going to be all right."
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Jesse Averna
2008 BFA Film and Video alumnus

With classes ending and (virtual) Commencement on the horizon, graduating students might have experienced a kind of whiplash this year. Before the COVID-19 crisis, many likely were looking forward to a future that included starting their professional lives in a booming economy. Yet, suddenly, in late winter and early spring, they were plunged into a reality that has left millions of Americans applying for unemployment and businesses shuttered due to social distancing.

One way to hold onto hope, though, is to look to the past. Like COVID-19, the 2001 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 2008 housing crisis both suddenly changed the world and sent the country into difficult economic times. We reached out to graduates of those years to ask them how they coped. They answered, and offered words of hope and some practical advice.

"I graduated right after the subprime mortgage crisis had hit the world. I was scared and thought I was unlucky. However, I soon figured out that it was not a tough time only for me, but also for a lot of people in the world. Then I was no longer nervous, because I realized that I didn't get left behind. I was just patiently preparing and waiting until things get better. I think this COVID-19 situation is similar to that. We are suffering together. Everyone has paused or slowed down, moving forward. Soon, when things get better, we are going to be able to run again. Until then, wait patiently and prepare for the moment. You will be fine." —Hye Sung Park (BFA 2009 Graphic Design)

Hye Sung Park portrait

Hye Sung Park

Animation Director/Designer


"You are graduating at one of the hardest times in American history. You deserve better. Unfortunately, we don't get to choose the times that we are in. But here's the good news: you're going to be all right. I'm confident of that, because I graduated into the recession in 2008. At the time, it felt like things would never work out, that the job market would never right itself, but it did. I thought that I might need to find work outside of the 'business,' but I didn't. Care about yourself and use this time to be a better you. Be proactive. Be healthy. Be kind. You got this. This moment is not forever. It's just a moment. There's a whole future in front of you that is wonderful!" —Jesse Averna (BFA 2009 Film and Video)

Jesse Averna receiving an award

Jesse Averna

Live Action, Animation, film and TV Editor


"Go somewhere you feel safe, somewhere that inspires you, where you can set up and work remotely. Read lots of books. SVA offered a phenomenal hands-on experience, but it never hurts to complement that with some theory. No better time than now. Make things. Trust me. Soon, you'll long for the days when you had thesis advisors breathing down your neck. Get used to self-disciplining. Apply to (virtual) grad school if that's something that interests you. Even leave the U.S. if you can (when traveling is a thing again)! The world is vast and there is much you can learn." —Anais Blondet (BFA 2008 Film and Video)

anais blondet on top of a mountain

Anais Blondet

Multidisciplinary Artist and Filmmaker


“The good news is that your services are in extremely high demand at the moment, so capitalize on this. Content is what everyone is consuming online. If you don’t have any projects related to the current times, then use this time to start thinking about what relevant topics you can speak on. Many artists are doing things such as creating #stayathome coloring pages, educational homeschooling animated videos, comedic videos, etc. We keep the world turning, especially through times of disaster when books, art, music and videos help people escape their realities at least for the moment. As they say, art allows you to escape, without ever leaving your home.” —David Heredia (BFA 2002 Animation)

david heredia graphic portrait

David Heredia



The alumni also offered up some practical tips. Here are some of them.

  • Give yourself a break. This isn't your fault. This sucks, period. If, for the time being, you just survive and stay mentally healthy, then you are doing great.

  • Don't wait for that perfect gig. If there is a paying job that aligns with your degree and desires—take it. You won't be wasting your time. Every gig develops you and adds to your network.

  • Let everyone know you're looking for work. Create and publish work to social media and add a note that says you are looking for work. Add that you're available for work in your email signature. Get in touch with artists you admire and offer your remote services.

  • Create a job-hunting routine. Just an hour or two a day, every day, can make the difference between feeling hopeful, knowing that you are working toward a goal and being burned out and frustrated.

  • Don't be afraid to try something new. Create a digital resume, an animation, a comic book or anything that makes you stand out and demonstrates your skills. Keep it short and make it shareable.

  • Create a website and update it often. We often update our social media but neglect our digital portfolio.

  • Engage on LinkedIn: Don't just look for jobs; like, comment, share and post your own content. It will make it easier for employers to find you.

  • Help others. If a fellow graduate needs a hand, an ear or a shoulder, be there for them. This is hard enough without your being an island. The investment you make in each other is equally, if not more, valuable than any career moves right now. 

Finally, illustrator and SVA faculty member Hyesu Lee (MFA 2011 Illustration as Visual Essay) was inspired to offer her own illustrated advice on Instagram.