First-Generation College Grad Faces Uncertain Future Amid Pandemic

Download Audio
Jontanna Greene, a first-generation college grad of Kennesaw State University (Courtesy)
Jontanna Greene, a first-generation college grad of Kennesaw State University (Courtesy)

Students graduating college this year are entering the job market at a time when huge swaths of the economy remain under lockdown.

Some recent graduates have had job offers withdrawn, others have had difficulty getting a response in the first place.

Jontanna Greene is a first-generation college graduate who's defeated many odds, including life-altering health challenges. Now, she’s facing uncertainty as a 2020 graduate of Kennesaw State University.

Greene says her journey to reach this academic milestone was not an easy one.

Jontanna Greene before the liver transplant. (Courtesy)
Jontanna Greene before the liver transplant. (Courtesy)

In her senior year of high school, Greene was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis, a chronic disease where the body’s immune system attacks the liver. Being in a college dorm “filled with germs” made her sick over and over again, she says. Her doctors advised her to come home.

“My life just did a complete 180 and went from being the normal girl that was ready to go off to college,” she says. “And then once I was diagnosed with my liver disease, it was like everything was just put on hold.”

Despite her complicated health challenges, Greene finished her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She became the first in her family to finish college, but the pandemic upended all graduation and celebration plans.

Her family is located in Albany, a city in Georgia that has been hit hard by COVID-19. Greene’s loved ones were still able to connect over a “surprise Zoom party,” where one of her cousins wrote a speech and conferred her degree. Her fiancé decorated the apartment with a balloon arch that said “Class of 2020.”

“I was surprised all day and was crying all day because they really did surprise me,” she says.

Prior to the pandemic, Greene secured a job at the school where she was student teaching. But now, she’s worried about future teacher furloughs and the uncertainty about schools reopening in the fall.

“I'm really dedicated to this next generation of students. Every child that I come into contact with, I hope to leave an impact on them,” she says. “And so not knowing whether or not we'll be able to be in our classrooms worries me.”

She says 2020 was supposed to be a monumental year for her, with both a wedding and graduation on the horizon. Now, her career may be put on hold.

“2020 was just going to be my year. And then out of nowhere, it's like, no, actually, everything is on pause right now. So it stinks,” she says. “But again, I'm grateful and my family is still here. And I'm here to say that I experienced this.”

Ciku Theuri produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku RaySerena McMahon adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on May 11, 2020.


Tonya Mosley Correspondent, Here & Now
Tonya Mosley was the LA-based co-host of Here & Now.


Serena McMahon Digital Producer
Serena McMahon was a digital producer for Here & Now.



More from Here & Now

Listen Live