'Doing what you love will never lead you astray'

Kimberly Wilson, graduate of the Class of 2021 and bound for Oxford, reflects on achieving her biggest goal during COVID-19
Kimberly Wilson
Kimberly Wilson reflects on graduation and a college career impacted by COVID-19. (Photo by Abbas Tayebali)

Editor's note: Kimberly Wilson is a writer in the College of LAS Office of Marketing and Communications. She is graduating this May with a bachelor's degree in sociology. She shared this reflection of her time at the University of Illinois. 

I was grabbing something to eat at the Ikenberry Commons dining hall when I saw the notification on my phone that I and my fellow students knew was coming. It was early March 2020, COVID-19 cases were on a steady rise, and the university finally announced that students were being sent home to finish the remainder of the semester remotely. A solemn feeling enveloped the room as we were all hit with the reality that our time on campus was over for now, and we did not know when we would be coming back. 

Ultimately, U of I managed to develop a pioneering method of handling the pandemic, and many students trekked back to campus for the start of the 2020-2021 school year. I, on the other hand, had decided with my family that staying home and continuing classes remotely was the best choice for me. After having transferred to the university in fall 2019, at the beginning of my junior year, I am graduating having spent the majority of my time as a student at U of I from my bedroom in Naperville, Illinois. 

Adjusting to remote learning definitely had its challenges, not least of which was staying motivated throughout the entirety of each semester fully online. As I spent my senior year at home, I missed campus dearly and the many invaluable opportunities that I would have had a chance to experience while studying in-person. 

As an LAS James Scholar, I was able to work closely with the program’s director and assistant director during an internship in fall 2019, as well as participate in a study abroad trip to northern Italy in early 2020 (pre-COVID). Now, I knew I had to change the way I approached being a part of the program and being a student at the university in general.

Setting goals and writing them down helped me to stay on track, and getting involved in activities like virtual volunteering with the Illinois in Vienna Program as well as my internships with the LAS Office of Communications and Marketing and the Humanities Research Institute helped me to cultivate meaningful relationships and stay connected to campus while studying from home.

As remote learning came with a unique set of stressors, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt during this time is how important it is to prioritize my mental health. Throughout college and life in general you will undoubtedly encounter situations that will test you and push your boundaries, but what I’ve learnt is that pushing through is not always the right course of action. Sometimes, walking away will be key to protecting your peace, and you’ll need to critically assess the situation to know which decision is best in the long run.

All the same, college is certainly meant to stretch you, and this pressure oftentimes made me feel I wasn't good enough during my time at U of I. Throughout my senior year I often worried I would not be able to figure out my next move or what career path I should follow after graduation. Imposter syndrome is something I'll probably always deal with, but finally obtaining my bachelor’s degree has made me realize that despite these intermittent feelings of inadequacy, I deserve to be here and have what it takes to be successful. 

Attending graduate school was perhaps my biggest goal throughout college, and I have now managed to achieve that goal. I have been accepted to the University of Oxford where I will pursue a master’s degree in comparative and international education beginning this fall. I truly believe that seeking out opportunities to learn more about my interests and hone my talents got me to where I needed to be, and that doing what you love will never lead you astray.

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Kimberly Wilson