A change of plans

The world has changed temporarily because of COVID-19, but the strong community that defines the essence of Wheaton College remains the same. (Photo by Keith Nordstrom)

This is not the column I had planned to publish in this issue of the magazine. A lot has changed since I gave my original column to the editor early in the production process. As a result, I swapped out the other column for this one at the last minute.

With the coronavirus (COVID-19) having an impact on every part of our lives, each day finds us in a constant state of change and reacting to new challenges. We’re all altering and rethinking the way we do everything in an effort to stop the spread of the virus while thinking about how our actions impact ourselves, our families and many others. For example, we no longer can engage in something as simple as going out with a group of friends for dinner in a restaurant (which currently is prohibited in Massachusetts and many other places). And we all are concerned about the serious impact on families with food insecurities who have to worry even more about how they will feed their young children as schools that provide free meals close.

During our spring break in March, as the cases of COVID-19 rose in Massachusetts and nationwide, we had to make some tough decisions about college operations based on the guidance and recommendations from city, state and federal officials. We knew these decisions would not only affect the staff, faculty and students on campus, but also our alumni near and far.

For the safety and health of our community, we made the difficult decision to move to remote course instruction and student operations for the remainder of the spring semester, as of March 23. All students were asked to move out of the residence halls, however, exceptions were made for students who were unable to leave for one reason or another. About 80 students remain on campus, and we have made certain that their needs will be met while here. In addition, most of the 90 students we had studying abroad this semester have returned home.

As the magazine goes to print, we are still discussing whether to postpone Commencement and Reunion Weekend, scheduled for mid-May. As I write this, the current outlook does not give me great hope that the events will happen as planned, but we will make a final decision on this in early April.

No matter what, we are committed to holding celebrations sometime this year to honor our graduating seniors and our alumni Reunion classes. This is even more important as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Alumni Association. Stay tuned for more information in the weeks ahead, but I look forward to seeing our community come together for these valued traditions.

These decisions have been all the more difficult because Wheaton has always been a community defined by close personal connections and a strong sense of togetherness. With one of the most beautiful campuses anywhere, we have always thrived on being together in this special place to learn, to live and to celebrate.

However, true community transcends physical space and it has been so inspiring to see our Wheaton family from all over the world come together to help us meet the challenges we are facing. We all feel a sense of loss and disappointment for the time together that has been taken away from us, but I know we will emerge from this even stronger and more connected.

I personally appreciate all of the outreach and support I have received from so many members of the Wheaton community. Know that we are here to support you, too. You will hear from us regularly with how we are coping, but also be sure to visit our website often for updates and information about how we are adjusting to this new reality.

Wheaton’s 186-year history has shown us time and again that this community is up for any challenge. Thank you for being a big part of what makes Wheaton so strong and so special. Please be safe and stay healthy during these challenging times.