My terrific job offer in San Francisco got snatched away

Updated 6:53 AM ET, Fri June 26, 2020

This is the next installment in the "Generation Resilient" series. Catie O'Reilly is a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)As the eldest of four children from a middle-class family in New Orleans, there was one thing I knew for sure: if I wanted to avoid six-figure debt after college graduation, I would have to excel academically and try to earn every scholarship available to me.

Fortunately, I was mostly able to do so. I attended Vanderbilt University, which gave me a full scholarship to cover my tuition costs, but not my room and board. To cover my cost of living, I had to take out $15,000 in student loans. While that figure might not seem overwhelming in the best of times, during the pandemic it has become a frightening financial burden -- set against the myriad of additional challenges the virus has created for my family and me.
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As a Medicine, Health and Society major, I had been following the coronavirus news since December. I knew its potential to wreak havoc on a global scale, and yet I didn't fully grasp the devastation it would cause until it spread to the United States. On March 13, Vanderbilt decided to close down the campus. I had to move home to New Orleans while still paying my inordinate rent for my off-campus apartment, which I was bound to do since my lease did not end until May 31.
When I returned home, I saw a city in disarray. The cases of coronavirus were rising at an alarming rate, with some attributing the spike to Mardi Gras, a sacred local celebration. My own sister, a freshman at Louisiana State University, had attended and was exhibiting several coronavirus symptoms, including loss of taste and smell, coughing and a fever. At that point, testing was not widely available, so we weren't able to confirm if she was actually infected.
Virtual learning made the reality I was facing that much more difficult. With all three of my siblings home, four of us were trying to continue our educations without crashing the internet. Though our Wi-Fi largely came through for us, we faced an additional economic hurdle -- both of our parents lost significant portions of their income.