During the COVID-19 pandemic, adapting to sudden changes was necessary. Growing from these changes was the best possible outcome. I transferred from UM-Dearborn as the pandemic began, beginning life at Ann Arbor remotely. I moved into a studio apartment in Kerrytown just north of central campus. It was the first time I had moved away
While the transition to remote learning was hard and learning how to live alone was new, the real challenge came later. During my first semester of junior year, I joined the startup incubator optiMize, with a goal of inventing a wellness device to help people stay healthy throughout the pandemic. I didn’t quite understand what I wanted to create in the beginning, but the answer quickly became clear.
In October 2020, a friend of mine died by suicide, unable to cope with the pressure he was put under. Distraught, my way of adapting was to use this grief as a reason to pursue mental health for my optiMize project. Without knowing it, I began to grow from the situation put in front of me, deepening my desire to use engineering to help others. In short order, I organized a team of volunteer U-M students and began development of the app for the next several months.
We developed our first working prototype in March 2021. It was a health app that proactively monitored mental wellbeing and provided tools for the user to access professional help. This time solidified my realization that my studies in engineering went far beyond creation for creation’s sake. Engineering is innovation to make our lives better; engineering is just one tool we use to build a better future for everyone. For the first time, my perception of my abilities grew and evolved.
This experience showed me the fragility of life and how little control we hold on the world around us. The pandemic, the sudden transitions to a remote world, the death of my friend—all of these were outside of my grasp. I was forced to adapt to these new pressures placed upon me. The only thing I could control, what I could truly change for the better, was myself in the face of these external pressures. In my view, adapting to new circumstances is a passive step, flowing with the world moving around us. Growth is the active step, a choice to not only be open to change, but to actively change yourself. It’s scary, disconcerting, and uncomfortable—after all, I wasn’t an app developer, team leader, or mental health advocate before this app—but this growth is how we become better versions of ourselves.
Now that I’m aware of the power of actively choosing to grow, I seek it whenever I can. We can never pick when the world shifts, so seeking growth on purpose prepares us for being comfortable with these forced adaptations. As of writing this, I sought growth through speaking at my graduation. While public speaking was not something I considered myself capable of six months ago, I chose to grow into it. In similar opportunities, I advise you to do the same.
KHALIF ADEGEYE, ’22, was a LEAD scholar, works as a product manager at Microsoft, and aims to influence change in the public policy space.