With the start of classes this week at the Claremont School of Theology, the term is now fully underway across all parts of the Willamette campus. I have said before that this is probably the hardest year in the history of American higher education, and in reopening with distance options, Willamette did not choose the easiest course. All of us here on campus are learning and adapting as we go, and I hope the rough edges are being smoothed away.
My primary message this month is one of thanks. In other venues, I have thanked the people who have worked so hard to make reopening possible, from the Facilities teams who have overhauled and upgraded air handling across campus to the WITS crews who have deployed hardware and software that bring remote and local students together. I have thanked Don Thomson and the Reopening Operations Committee for planning how to keep the campus safe, and the staff of Bon Appetit for planning how to keep us fed. I have thanked the faculty who have reimagined how to teach and are now building learning communities in ways they never imagined a year ago. I have thanked the many staff who have not only found ways to support students who may be a thousand miles away, but who have found ways to support students facing personal, family, and economic challenges due to COVID-19. I’m incredibly proud of all of this work, done by people whose own lives in many cases have been upended by the need to deal with K-12 school closures, care of isolated family members, and the sometimes enormous stress added by the national political environment, civic unrest, and racially-targeted violence. And I am thankful for the alumni, families and members of the wider Willamette community who have shared words of support and concern for our students.
I want to add a particular message of gratitude to our students. In this difficult moment, our students' presence at Willamette, whether physical or virtual, is a reminder of the possibility of a better world. It is a reminder of the importance of our mission, to prepare young people to “turn knowledge into action.” It is the reason we are all here, in Willamette’s 179th year.
And I am especially grateful to see in our students a very characteristic care for others, as manifested in serious efforts being made to protect the health of the whole community. The ubiquity of masks and face coverings, the attention to social distancing, even the adaptability to modified course schedules and box meals are all discomforts or annoyances that we understand are not so much about protecting ourselves as protecting those around us.
When I walk the campus, I see a university that is doing its best to do a very hard thing — delivering a transformative educational experience in the best way we know how. I see a Willamette University living out its motto. And I’m very proud to be a Bearcat.
Non nobis solum,
President Stephen Thorsett