Connection generates resilience

From the front rooms of the Presidents’ House, I can see clear across the campus—from Mary Lyon Hall and the Dimple straight to the Wallace library. There isn’t a day that I don’t take some time to enjoy this incredible and historic view.

It predictably frames the passing of time as the seasons change, the academic year begins and ends, and the campus shifts gears for summer programs.

However, throughout the COVID-19 global pandemic, the only thing that has been “predictable” is the daily dose of new unknowns. It has been difficult to look out and see an empty campus that should have been filled with students, faculty and staff finishing up the academic year, alumni attending events and youths enjoying outdoor camps.

But I’m heartened when I look at our community and see how we have come together—even as we are apart. Ironically, the isolation and separation we needed for safety has brought us closer as a community. And because of that, we are stronger, more resilient and able to weather this storm.

Wheaton is a beacon helping us navigate through some of the toughest challenges facing us and all of higher education. It sheds light on the fact that we are not alone. I treasure being at this institution for that very reason.

This crisis has required us to be our most creative in finding solutions to the ongoing complications that impact our students, faculty, staff and alumni. Standing together has been critical as we work to design innovative ways to move forward with Wheaton’s mission to provide a distinctive liberal arts education.

Collectively, we have been inspired to find different ways of doing things and of engaging with each other during the past several months. This has been out of necessity, but we have sought out and relished these opportunities.

For example, the virtual Commencement ceremony drew nearly 5,000 unique viewers from around the world, who watched via livestream. Several hundred [375] alumni also attended the virtual Reunion Weekend, which was highlighted by a series of faculty panels, class parlor parties and a Wheaton Town Hall.   

Wheaton’s virtual summer orientation doubled in attendance. In June, more than 200 people participated in a Zoom moment-of-silence and call to action event hosted by Wheaton’s Center for Social Justice and Community Impact in response to racial injustice and the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests.

Student leaders have made the most of technology and social media by creating activities and events to stay connected with their peers and the college, including during the summer.

In an effort to keep in close contact, I began communicating weekly in emails to the campus community, parents and alumni.

And the relationship-building has extended beyond Wheaton. I have been regularly meeting with college and university presidents since March via Zoom. In most circumstances pre-pandemic, each of us focused almost exclusively on our own institutions, but now we collaborate, share ideas and brainstorm solutions that will benefit us all.

What we see when we look at anything depends on our perspective. When challenges occur we can either fix our gaze on the problems or turn our focus and actions toward solutions. I’m glad that as a connected community we are doing the latter. We all should be very proud of the way that Wheaton has risen to the challenge and grown even stronger. Thank you for making that possible.