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The Benefits of Students Acting UpAmy Baldwin, Ed.D.
During my recent winter break, rummaging around in my closet at home, I discovered a "vision board" I made at the end of 2019 illustrating my dreams and goals for 2020.
Sitting in my childhood bedroom looking at words like “Adventure,” “Travel” and even “Friends,” it was clear that a lot of what I’d hoped for the year 2020 did not become reality. I had to move home from campus during the spring of my sophomore year, my junior year study abroad program was cancelled, the number of friends I could see in person shrank due to COVID-19 restrictions, and so many of the activities and trips I’d planned were limited.
As the pandemic continued into my senior year of college, it would be easy to look back and see only disappointments. Yet there are also many ways my perspective changed and that I grew as an individual that made 2020 (and 2021 as well) a time of silver linings.
And it taught me not to be afraid to let go of the ones that don’t. As harsh as it sounds, the past couple of years made me prioritize the friends that I want to see and also showed me the people that don’t impact me positively.
As soon as COVID hit and we were forced to only see a few people in close contact, it became evident who was willing to put in work for our friendship. This was a hard truth to face, but ultimately one that allowed me to grow and become more aware of what I need from my friends.
I learned that I’m extroverted and thrive from being around friends (which was especially difficult early in the pandemic). I learned that with friends I am apart from, FaceTime and texting are essential. I learned that having less is more, especially when it means that the people I surround myself with have my back 100% of the time.
I’m someone who loves the idea of having a set plan for my life. I thought I knew exactly what my 2020 would look like: finish sophomore year, have an internship and spend the summer with friends in my hometown, then study abroad for my junior fall semester.
Except for spending that summer at home, none of this happened. It was extremely frustrating at first and is still tough to look back at, but the past year and a half have also forced me to relax and truly take everything day by day. I can plan as much as I want, but one small shift can change all of my expectations.
In 2020, I chose to live in the moment because it wasn’t an option not to, and this is a mindset I’m carrying with me into the future because ultimately I will never be able to plan my entire life and I want to enjoy where I am right now.
While saying “I’m fine” always seems like the easy way out, I learned that this can only take me so far. Especially when it has felt like everything around me was so uneasy between divisive politics, the pandemic and various other bad news, I learned that the one thing I can control is my mental health and what makes me feel best. This challenged me to actually tell my friends how I was feeling and what I needed.
The honest truth is that a lot of the last couple of school years has been very hard emotionally, and not only did I have to come to terms with this for myself, but I had to admit this to the people around me because that was the only way to get better.
In the end, communicating well with my friends has made us closer and while it was tough in the moment, life is so much easier because I know there are people who fully understand and want the best for me.
This is something I accomplished to the fullest extent despite all the challenges I faced. Because pandemic life can be very isolating, I’ve had room to focus inwardly. Rather than being reliant on other people, I was forced to turn to myself in a lot of ways.
Again, while this challenged me, it also caused me to grow more as an individual than I feel like I ever have. I now have a better understanding of who I am, what my needs are, and am more confident than I have been in a long time.
The pandemic has taught me that, when so many circumstances feel out of my control, there are ways I can take charge of my own life and make the best with what I have. If we pause to recognize the positives and the ways we’ve grown, we’ll see that the small things can make this crazy time memorable in a good way.
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