Rise above obstacles and apply lessons from 2020 to the new year | Ask Kelly

Students wearing orange shirts hold 2021 balloons

Dear Kelly,

The year 2020 has definitely been rough, and I am completely devoted to ensuring that 2021 is better. What advice would you give me to help make 2021 truly remarkable?

You know, this time last year, I don’t think any of us had any clue that 2020 would hold all of the challenges that it did. For a while, it seemed like each month came with its own new set of hurdles. We faced an international pandemic, a plethora of hurricanes and tropical storms, wildfires, a stock market crash and so much more. There were even some pretty crazy news stories like the arrival of murder hornets and unsolicited seed packets sent to random people through the mail. We must take note that through all the events brought to us by 2020, in retrospect, we learned just how flexible and resilient we can be when faced with extreme challenges.

Together, we stared into the face of each obstacle and figured out a way to overcome it. When schools and colleges went online, students, parents and teachers from across the nation did what they had to do to make the best of it. When we were told to shelter in place, grocery stores, online markets and restaurants adjusted the way they did business to ensure people got the food they needed. The government stepped in to help companies and individuals get through the difficult times, and banks, debt collectors and other creditors made pathways for people to suspend payments or postpone payment due dates. Airlines and travel companies figured out how to still operate and get their customers safely to their destinations, and doctor’s offices went virtual and changed procedures to ensure patients got the care they needed while also staying safe. We learned how to adjust and transform to take care of one another and change our way of doing things in hopes to procure a safer future.

There were times this year that our nation was fractured over politics and personal opinions. Looking at social media brought with it a flurry of debates. Often times when looking at Facebook, Twitter or TikTok, all you really hoped to see were funny videos or cute pictures of pets and babies, just to get a moment of Zen, where you could laugh and forget all that was happening. But through all of that, did you ever notice that when you left your house to venture out, even through the masks, the world seemed at peace? When you visited the grocery store, people were smiling, helpful and, for the most part, non-confrontational. While on the news or social media the world seemed to be in a hopeless panic and in distress, within our own neighborhoods there was a feeling of unity and serenity.

I say all of this to say, although 2020 has been tough and we hope 2021 will be better, there has been a lot of good that has come out of this year. We have seen challenges, but we also have seen hope. We have experienced loss but also have encountered renewal. We have witnessed growth and strength of character through pitfalls and hardships. Although at times we have been made to slow down, we have also had the chance to relax and spend quality time with the ones we love. 

Recently, Dr. Penny Elkins, senior vice president of enrollment management at Mercer University, and someone who has been my mentor and has encouraged me to go farther than I ever thought was possible, shared a quote with me from her mentor and education professor, Dr. Bobby Jones. Dr. Jones was an extremely remarkable man. He was the first Black principal at Willingham High School in Macon, and the first Black professor to earn tenure at Mercer. In his education courses, he used to challenge his students to be “bridge builders.” He would say, “We are to build bridges. We are not to tear down; we are to build.”

So, my best advice is let’s go into 2021 embracing the words of Dr. Jones. Let’s choose to see obstructions as opportunities to grow and develop. We have the ability to decide that regardless of what hinders us, we can have faith, hope and the spirit and tenacity to rise above obstacles. There may be hurdles ahead, but we also know we have what it takes to embrace Mercer’s vision and be bridge builders. How can we do that? We can vow to spend the next year discovering and developing our gifts and talents so that we can inspire others by serving the needs of humankind, while also becoming leaders who will make a positive difference in the world. We can make it a point to seek to enrich our minds while we search for truth and understanding. We can make the choice to affirm and respect the dignity and sacred worth of every person, while celebrating both our similarities and our differences. Finally, as Mercerians, we can help where help is needed, and we can do what we can to make our world a better, healthier, more peaceful and prosperous place.

Happy New Year to you and yours, and as always, I wish you health, happiness and continued success throughout your journey.

Do you have a question about coping with school in these challenging times? Each week Kelly Browning, an early childhood education/special education major and student ambassador at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at kelly.l.browning@live.mercer.edu or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.


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