Changing Lives, Transforming Communities
The tnAchieves Blog

#FindYourWhyTN: Finding the Connection
By: Savannah Gray, tnAchieves Student

March 11, 2021

I had one fall semester under my belt and half of a spring semester left to complete when the world went online. Some professors were prepared; they had taught online versions of their courses before. But the vast majority of students and professors alike were making huge adjustments to their learning and teaching. There were new platforms and programs to navigate and a whole new breed of distractions. Learning to learn from home was not easy. I had to make a “do not enter” sign for my bedroom door. My floor became a mess of papers and open books. I was separated from my peers and felt very isolated. For a while, it was difficult to stay on top of all the tasks I had to complete with all of the adjusted deadlines and the lack of a physical, focused classroom. But my professors kept reminding us of one thing: you are not alone.

I was not alone. Good to know. I tucked that in the back of my mind and kept pushing forward. I made to-do lists, highlighted priority deadlines, set reminders, and actually used my calendar. The switch to online schooling acted served as a catalyst for my time management and list-making skills. I finished the semester with good grades and breathed a sigh of relief. But the feeling of isolation remained. Ironically, I was not the only one feeling like this. It is hard to get work done when you feel that you are the only one struggling to accomplish something. Fall 2020 was a continuation of that difficulty. This time, I adapted quicker. I continued to make lists and manage my time but, even better, I joined group chats for some of my classes. I participated in virtual study sessions with my classmates. I even got the chance to meet in person (outside and socially distanced) with one of my classes. It was then that I learned that self-discipline and community go hand-in-hand. Learning becomes less of a chore when you can learn alongside other people. And, though the pandemic has made that a challenge, it has not made it impossible. I had to get out of my comfort zone and overcome the barriers to my education that I was running into. I heard from fellow students about the exact same struggle and I remembered the importance of those words, “you are not alone.” Even in crisis, it is possible to find solidarity and make lasting, beneficial connections.

The connections I made, even amidst the disorientation of moving online, helped me remember why I was even pursuing a college education in the first place. From a young age, I wanted to be a teacher. I was inspired by one of my elementary school teachers; her bond with the students and her enthusiasm about learning and life itself, made me want to instill that same passion in other people. As I got older, I also discovered my love for writing. In my 8th and 9th grade years I started writing stories, poems, essays, started on a novel, and even tried my hand at scriptwriting. And I did not stop there—to this day I still write all kinds of pieces, all the time. So, I put my two passions together and decided that I would pursue a degree in English Education. I want to teach students to love learning and to write well because I have learned that effective communication and writing is extremely valuable in all areas of life. But as I started on my college path, I started to wonder if I was wasting my time. What if I decide later on that I don’t want to teach, and I just want to write stories? Do I really need to go to school to be an author? Why am I committing to all this time in school if I could just write on my own? All my questions were answered within my first semester.

At the end of the Fall 2019 semester, I received my final paper for my Modern British Literature, and I took initiative to go to the professor and seek one-on-one feedback. He happily discussed the paper with me, and, at the end of the meeting, he asked me, “what is your major again?”

“English” I replied, a little confused.

“Excellent. You are doing exactly what you need to do.” I was thrilled.

I had just been validated by someone who had studied English and literature for a huge part of their life. It was a confidence boost and a connection made. As classes went on, I continued to talk to professors and communicate with other students. Something came back to my mind. In my senior year of high school and freshmen year of college, I would often hear people (at college fairs, seminars, and orientation) mention the value of “networking.” I did not fully understand it until that meeting with my literature professor. I realized that, even if I end up choosing the career of author or writer over a career in teaching, college is still incredibly worthwhile because of all the connections I will make along the way. In going to college, I am not only learning and preparing for my career, but I am also developing relationships and gaining both accountability and credibility. That is why I am going to college: I do not want to exercise my passions in a bubble—I want to share them with others and proficiently apply them in my future.