Learning and Living in a Post-Pandemic Environment

When I had my second baby, my husband bought me a beautiful necklace that had my kids' names engraved on it. A simple silver chain, I wore it each day for months after my son was born. I love it.

When maternity leave was over and I went back to the office, I took it off. I felt like pearls were often more appropriate or a different, fancier something was warranted. Sometimes, I'd remember to put it back on after work; but often, I would go days without it because it felt like it wasn't appropriate for what I was supposed to be doing. It didn't quite match.

When the pandemic hit and I was suddenly working from home every day, hyper-focused on my family and shepherding my kiddos through a virtual pandemic-life, I put my necklace back on. Clearly "business casual dress" had taken on a whole new meaning at that point. Let's just say, I wasn't really wearing fancy jewelry anymore (or shoes, come to think of it…).

And at some point, months in, I realized that I hadn't taken that silver necklace off.

I think, at the time, I silently reclaimed my identity as a mom first. Life was about way more than just dressing up for work. It was about family and balance (and survival…). It was about holding down the fort and holding things together and keeping everyone healthy and (relatively) sane.

We know now (though I suspect we always have known) that it's not all about perfect grades and the proverbial string of pearls when it comes to learning and success.

I don't know why, but recently when I was asked what life was going to look like at the University and in admissions in a post-pandemic world, that necklace sprang to mind.

Before we all lived through this insane, once-in-a-hundred-years trauma, we thought we knew what work and school was supposed to look like. We dressed the part — what we assumed people might want us to do and to be and to look like. We wore what people expected and compartmentalized our lives. We learned how we had always been expected to learn. And it's possible that we even hid the parts of us we didn't think fit that picture of perfect. But I believe the vision of "perfect" has shifted.

The pandemic has brought to us a level of humility and humanity that has been desperately needed in society. If I'm honest, I'm really grateful for being allowed to be a multi-faceted, imperfect human during these last months, and for having the opportunity to see others through this lens as well.

I think that's what post-COVID Admissions is going to look like. In a time when test scores are being waived or not required at all anymore, where grades and school completion look different than they ever have, and holistic application review is the watch word for all — it's imperative that universities get to see all the pieces and parts of our graduate applicants and students. And, more importantly, that our students feel free and safe to be honest with their universities about all the parts of who they are and how they learn. In essence, to feel empowered to wear their silver necklaces every day.

We've had a lot of time on our hands these last 18 months, and we've all changed tremendously. Things we thought we knew, we realize now that we didn't. Things we never thought we'd do or try, many of us have become experts at (I'm looking at you, loaf of sourdough…). Learning and our accomplishments suddenly look very different for us all. (I can spell asynchronous without spell check now, for example.)

What extraordinary skills we've gained that will help us all to be better researchers, students, leaders, and visionaries! It's the stuff our society and our schools so desperately need: Innovation and courage and grit from the folks who have lived through a pandemic and are ready to get back to learning, transforming, and using our newfound strengths and knowledge for a better community.

I encourage you to be proud of the scars you've acquired from what you've lived through. They are important parts of who you are and what is going to make you an exceptional student. We know now (though I suspect we always have known) that it's not all about perfect grades and the proverbial string of pearls when it comes to learning and success.

I've been back to school a couple of days a week for the last couple of months now. And I get dressed up each day. Sometimes, I even wear the fancy stuff again. But I haven't taken off my little silver necklace. It hangs next to my heart, reminding me every day what is most important and how it all fits together to make me an even stronger and more complete human than I was in days past.

No compartmentalizing necessary.