Student Lessons Learned, Outside the Classroom, in 2020

I was recently in the grocery store and saw a young woman with a T-shirt that read,” I wish 2020 was over.”  I thought about the number of students that I had spoken to during the semester who expressed similar sentiments. 

When asked “Once 2020 is over, what will be different when the calendar turns to 2021?” students paused, reflected, and realized that the turning of the calendar would not miraculously erase the woes of the past year, but somehow, it would give them hope for a clean start.  

Pauses to Reflect Reveal Lifestyle Changes

A crisis will often catapult us or force us to look within and pause to examine the part of ourselves that often gets lost in our harried everyday lives. Many students have asked, “What is the universe trying to teach us? Is God trying to tell us something?”

When I asked students what the positives were in 2020, self-examination led to clarity. Many have been able successfully to reframe and transform the experiences and events of 2020 in profound and life changing ways, including their ability to accept and shift personal priorities.

Students have accepted that life as they knew it has changed, at least for now. One student said, “Life might not be what it was before, but maybe that’s a good thing.”  Some have tearfully accepted that they were unable to attend many meaningful wedding and graduation celebrations and other milestone events. The pandemic forced them to think creatively outside of the box and find more personalized and innovative ways to celebrate.

Many feel the pandemic shifted their personal priorities. Students seem to have a renewed appreciation for happiness, life, family, health and basic freedoms. This time has been a wake-up call. They are people realizing that it is time to live and value each and every day.

Some students made a more conscious decision to sit in a more mindful place and focus on the here and now, and have gratitude for the things that matter in their lives. There is a newfound awakening for the appreciation of health, time and relationships.


Existential crisis has been transformed into the realization that you get to be happy and have a good life even if things are not perfect. The blessings in the chaos have been scary, but life changing personally, professionally and spiritually. Many were forced into a life review and to take a hard look in the mirror.

 Job Loss Can Increase Stress and Worry or Bring Relief

For some the loss of a job brought on monumental stress and worry. For others, the loss brought a sense of peace and relief. Some secretly were happy that they were freed of the chains that kept them in unfulfilling jobs. This was a time they could reinvent themselves and find meaning and purpose.

Students initially feared there would be little employment opportunities during a pandemic and that they were doomed by the state of the economy. Many were surprised when presented with jobs that they had never considered.  Others got creative and found side hustles that created additional income. They adopted a new strategy that was empowering and energizing. Students took on an entrepreneurial posture to ensure that all their eggs were no longer in one basket.

Life Practicalities Become More Obvious

Another positive outcome was some of the practical lessons learned.  Many students said that some things they had been doing previously, like senseless shopping or eating out instead of cooking at home, left their bank accounts empty. They realized that a “rainy day” account is essential to feel safe and secure. Some students purged and sold things they no longer needed. These actions were either symbolic cleansings or a real need to find extra income as a supplement. Useless trips to the mall and daily Amazon purchases came to a screeching halt. Peace and financial security and people were seen as far more valuable than the focus on material items. Bad habits were abandoned and they were replaced by those with meaning.

One of the more touching outcomes from the pandemic was that students reported feeling a surprising sense of connectedness while in isolation. They felt connected to the world in the global sense, attuned to the universal suffering and the idea that we are all in this together, and that we need to take care of each other. A renewed sense of reality has forced some to recognize the inequities, and that our broken system has left many with a lack of accessible healthcare and other essential resources. Justice and fairness were common themes during this time of vulnerability.

Gain Permission to Live More Authentically

Perhaps one of the more profound results of experiencing life in 2020 is gaining a sense of liberation. Students feel they now have license to live more authentically in accordance with their priorities. Keeping personal boundaries is an ongoing theme for growth and survival. They are able to say “no” to the things that drain them and “yes” to ways that align with their newfound appreciation for self, family, health, and their community. 2020 was a wake-up call for many students to start living the life they want to live, not the one that was expected of them.

One student emphasized the need to create new and meaningful memories and not to waste valuable time. Many are realizing that time really is precious. Students are finding that tomorrow is not promised to everyone, that they need to make the most of their time and live their best lives.

One hopeful student who will be graduating this semester said, “Trust and surrender fear. Take time for yourself and others, love each other and remember to call Grandma.”