• Mary-Helen Kolousek, UNC Greensboro

The Beauty of Starting College Mid-Pandemic


The first day of my freshman year of college didn’t look as I always imagined it would. I wasn’t walking to class in the warm, damp morning air, nervously preparing to present myself to a group of complete strangers. Instead, as the countdown to that first class began, I was in my bedroom, painstakingly moving my computer around until I found the perfect nook to share through my webcam. In that moment, it felt unfair, like all of these experiences had been stolen from me. But I soon discovered that the opposite may have been true. You see, this weird state of higher ed that I, and thousand others, entered into, allowed for the development of perfectly unique knowledge and experiences that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Collected below are just a few of these lessons, grown through a year of trial and tribulation.

Adaptability is Key

It can be difficult to maintain productivity and organization when your environment feels quite the opposite. When most of your questions, Is event XYZ still going to occur? Will that be in-person or virtual?, are answered with I don’t know, you quickly develop a high level of adaptability. Nothing ever felt certain - and I’m so glad it didn’t. I wasn’t allowed to live in my bubble, to set any firm expectations. As time progressed, the result of this experience became more and more clear. No longer clinging to my own expectations as a source of comfort and reassurance, I went after the unknown - the daunting - and gathered amazing experiences along the way.

Growth Requires Initiative

No matter the environment, great opportunities don’t usually jump out at you, grabbing onto your backpack and insisting that you capitalize upon them. But the pandemic environment took this to a new level. Everything felt cluttered and it was easy for opportunities to get lost in the chaos and confusion of a partially virtual education. Fortunately for me, I was able to quickly learn the intense importance of self-initiative – of simply making the effort to show up, to ask questions. When I contacted my honors advisor, yearning to learn more about on-campus leadership, she took the time to share her many resources with me, and answer my many questions. This was an invaluable conversation for me and I’m still utilizing my scribble of meeting notes to this day. If I had never taken the initiative to contact her, who knows how many opportunities would have passed me by.

Treasure All Relationships

Nothing makes you take a step back and appreciate the people in your life like not being able to be around, well, the people in your life. What were once naturalistic actions, dinners with friends and casual conversation, became virtually nonexistent without effort. As a freshman student, this meant having a difficult time establishing personal and professional bonds with my peers. I was far away from all of my childhood friends and family, I wanted nothing more than to develop new relationships as we embraced college life together. Learning how to meet new people around safety restrictions was interesting but, through it all, I was able to form some amazing, cherished relationships. I credit the pandemic for their success, at least early on. Before it, I didn’t value the little things, the little moments, to a grand enough degree. Treasuring your relationships, and all of the little moments that come along with them, truly allows you to see the world in a new light.

These experiences and lessons I’ve discussed are far from unique to me. They are shared by thousands. Thousands of college freshman who embraced a rapidly changing world, mass uncertainty, isolation… And through it all, they stood strong. They discovered strengths they never knew they had and turned them into superpowers. As the years progress, and my cohort graduates, the world is going to be shocked by the newest professional leaders, and all of their perfectly unique superpowers.

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