Women wearing masks
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To say we are living in unprecedented times is an understatement. Who would have thought at the start of the year, when we were full of hope and promise, that the world would be where it is now?

In a state of lockdown, stalled economies, cancelled examinations, and surrounded by sickness and fear. Our concerns back then pale in comparison to today.

There is no doubt that we have reasons to be sad or feel hard done by from the fallout of COVID-19, but what we have to remember is that this virus has impacted everybody one way or another, not least the thousands of students around the world who were due to sit examinations.

They were at the pinnacle of their education careers and have been robbed of their chance to show what they are capable of.

Today’s university graduates are leaving with nothing but paper degrees. They are not having the opportunity, now considered a luxury, of a graduation ceremony and subsequent celebrations. Sadly, we are living in a new, parallel world where there are other things to think about.

There are many unknowns about university placements for graduating six formers, uncertainty about the jobs market for university graduates, and huge questions about the future jobs market in general. But, with every cloud comes a silver lining.

We cannot allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity. There are upsides that can be capitalised on. For graduating medical students, nurses, researchers, and people eyeing up jobs in the pharmaceutical industry there are an abundance of opportunities.

The same too for the technology sector, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Education Technology. For students considering other professions, you may have to take stock and re-evaluate your options.

It is one tough time, there is no denying it, but it is not all doom and gloom. It is also a time for optimism. And, it is important to remember that history shows that the people that flourish are those that are most adaptable. They are the ones who are willing to change and the most willing to be optimistic.

My message to these ambitious school leavers and university graduations is this: Don’t get swamped by everything that is wrong. Look for the positives. The people who do, will stand tall and pull us out of this dire straits.

They will help the world recover. For students in younger years, I would like to urge you to embrace online learning and digital technology, which is coming at a rapid pace.

If you adapt, you will flourish. As I said in one of my books, AI is not something to be afraid of, it is something that can liberate and enhance humanity rather than entrap and infantilise us. Let’s put it to good use and use it to our advantage.

It is not just learning that is going to be different. Jobs of the future and the way we socialise will change forever. This is the biggest thing that has happened to the world in 100 years.

One thing that is incredibly important to remember, is that no matter what, the number one priority is to look after our well-being, because if we don’t look after ourselves, nobody else will.

Sure, we have people who love us and care for us, but we should be held accountable for our own physical and mental health. The better we are physically, the better we feel. So, make sure you exercise regularly and look after your mental well-being. A healthy body leads to a much healthier mind. So too does an optimistic mind.

To conclude, with probably a much-overused quote from Charles Robert Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most responsive to change.”

With that in mind, remember that history shows that those who flourish are not necessarily the most intelligent, or the hardest working, but those that are most willing to adapt.

So, use this as your greatest opportunity not to become immersed in sadness for the things we can no longer have. The greatest opportunity in your lives now is to adapt and innovate. Now go out and do it and make a difference!

— Sir Anthony Seldon is one of the UK’s leading contemporary historians, educationalists, commentators and political authors. He is currently Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham in the UK and an advisor to GEMS Education schools.