For Patrick George, 24, the road to a college degree has been long and full of hurdles.

On May 9, he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics with a minor in business from the University of Mary Washington, six years after dropping out of Stafford High School his senior year.

But instead of feeling successful and optimistic about the future, George feels like the coronavirus just threw another roadblock in his way.

“I’m worried about it—the jobs that have been lost, economically speaking,” he said. “JP Morgan estimated it will take 10 years to get back all the jobs we lost in six weeks. That’s kind of stressful.”

George said he dropped out of high school when he learned he would have to complete an extra year.

“In high school, another year seems like an eternity,” he said. “I thought I knew everything. I thought I was ready to hit the world.”

George worked in construction for six months but, “it turns out I don’t actually know everything,” he said.

So he studied for his GED and enrolled at Germanna Community College, where he took basic courses, learned how to apply for financial aid and worked 30-hour weeks at Stafford County Parks and Recreation.

George said his family motivated him to stay in school.

“Especially my mom and dad,” he said. “It was super disappointing for them to see me drop out.”

He was also motivated, he said, by the future family he wanted to have one day.

After a year and a half, George transferred to UMW to pursue a degree in economics. He continued to work for Stafford County and took classes around his job.

He was inspired by UMW economics professor Shawn Humphrey and all his major coursework, especially Social Good Lab, in which student teams design and build a prototype solution to a client’s specific problem.

“That was super fun because we got to help out and work on projects for the community,” George said.

As his college graduation drew closer, George started to think about what he wanted to do with his degree. In the short term, maybe he’d like to work as a data analyst for the Department of Education and long term, he’d like to start his own business locally, where he’s always lived.

This spring, George moved into a home with his girlfriend. In March, their son Peyton was born.

Then coronavirus struck.

Learning that UMW would not hold its traditional commencement ceremonies was “difficult,” he said.

“It was super disappointing to hear that we won’t be able to walk,” George said.

To acknowledge his hard work, George’s sister, Emily held a photo shoot for him last weekend, taking pictures of him in his cap and gown with his family.

“I still wanted to make what would’ve been his graduation day special,” Emily George said. “He deserved to be recognized.”

George said he feels fortunate to still be working for Stafford County, but the future is uncertain.

The coronavirus is “just another hurdle to get over,” he said.

Adele Uphaus–Conner:



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