Embracing the Inevitable: Virtual Vulnerability and the Value of Change

Adaptation. Resilience. Vulnerability. As my time at UNCW comes to a close, I’ve found myself reflecting on these three values and the essential role they’ve played in my ability to embrace change and inspire personal and professional growth as a student. Although these three values are rooted in my own development, this growth would not have been possible without the support of my professors and the Communication Studies faculty.

For the Class of 2020, the experiences we’ve had with our COM professors have been all-encompassing. They’ve watched us as we’ve developed from promising students to passionate graduates to-be. They’ve seen us overcome obstacles and realize our potential as we grew within our discipline, supporting us along the way with encouragement and affirmations. They’ve seen us stumble into 8am classes tired and unenthusiastic, and welcomed us with humor and understanding. They’ve shared our excitement for our successes and our disappointment for our failures. The relationship we’ve created with our professors is special, but for the past two semesters, they’ve gotten to see another side of us—as have we with them—that has made our relationship unique: we’ve seen each other at our most vulnerable.

As we shifted to online classes to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, we uncovered vulnerabilities with our peers and professors that we hadn’t revealed before. Through the medium of Zoom, we were invited into each other’s most personal spaces. We’ve gathered virtually in each other’s bedrooms, offices, and kitchens. We’ve seen each other unkempt, donned in our pajamas with faces unwashed and hair uncombed. We’ve seen disheveled apartments with unwashed dishes, unmade beds, and disorganized offices. We’ve seen our peers quarantined, participating in class while battling the tail end of their recovery from COVID-19. We’ve overheard conversations that were meant to be muted, seen visuals that were meant to be hidden, and experienced sharing our most intimate spaces with many whom we hadn’t interacted with beyond the classroom. Whether we intended to or not, some of us have arguably shared too much (insert collective moment of solace for those who forgot to turn off their camera in the bathroom—I admire your humanity). But, what’s resulted from this unusual and slightly uncomfortable venture is a deepened sense of community and humility. Despite each of the challenges we’ve faced amidst isolation and remote learning, we’ve become more familiar with each other’s humanness. We’ve seen each other vulnerable.

There’s something reassuring about seeing the equally as imperfect versions of your classmates and professors gather on an early morning Zoom. There’s something refreshing about accidental unmutings and casual moments of candor that otherwise wouldn’t be shared if it weren’t for the virtual nature of this school year. There’s something relieving about this unconcealed collective struggle that makes something so foreign feel familiar. What initially felt like an awkward intrusion has turned into a means of comfort and connection. Throughout the past year, I’ve developed a strange appreciation for ‘virtual vulnerability’ and the authenticity that comes with it. Perhaps one day, we’ll be nostalgic for the transparency of these unusual circumstances the same way we’re nostalgic for what was once ‘normal’. But, for now, I’ve found relief in the abnormal, I’ve found humor in the absurd, and I’ve found comfort in the uncomfortable. Truthfully, I might actually prefer these raw versions of ourselves over the polished versions that we grew so accustomed to.

While the past two semesters have proven to be mentally and emotionally taxing for myself and many others, the fundamental exercise of resilience and adaptation calls for choosing a response that embraces your vulnerabilities in the face of change.

To the students entering UNCW, I encourage you to keep one thing in mind: the inevitability of change. There’s no telling what the academic year will look like as you navigate college in the years following the pandemic; however, there is one guarantee, and that is change. The changes that you will face will be challenging, as they will often be unexpected, but they will be transformative if you award yourself the additional challenge of embracing your vulnerability to inspire adaptation and resilience.

More than anything, the inevitability of change is a reminder to value the present moment and the people within it. Upon entering UNCW, create a relationship with your professors; be transparent with them and respect them as people. Our professors are equally as human as we are, and more often than not, they feel the same uncertainties twice over for their students in the face of change. Throughout all of the unpredictable changes at UNCW, the one thing that has stayed consistent is the dedication of our professors; they will be alongside you the entire way, and believe me, they want to see you succeed.

The experiences you will have throughout your time at UNCW will likely go unmatched. Although you will inevitably get clouded by deadlines, personal setbacks, and other reliable obstacles, I urge you to keep the bigger picture in perspective. Though this reads as a cliché, it is a fact of life: the only constant is change, and you never know when the most definitive changes are coming. My time at UNCW has taught me that change is in fact inevitable, and as I approach graduation, I’ve made a promise to myself to continue learning and embracing change as if I were still a student. I know that in order to do so successfully, I’ll need to continue to be vulnerable, adaptable, and resilient; skills that UNCW has uniquely prepared me for. Enrolling in UNCW almost promises an unpredictable experience, but if you have reservations about potentially forgoing a ‘normal’ college experience, take it from someone whose path has been anything but ordinary: I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Written by: Emily Norris, soon to be UNCW COM Alum