Dear Vanderbilt community,
Today marks the first day of classes for many of you in a semester and a year like none other. It has not been an easy journey to invite our students back to campus amid this ongoing global health crisis.
In fact, some may believe we should have continued the fully online model we moved to last March when COVID-19 first came to our campus. That may well have been the easier path. But given our mission of collaborative learning and discovery, it was imperative that Vanderbilt do its utmost to bring together students and faculty in an environment where ideas can flourish, assumptions can be challenged, and arguments can be honed. These activities are the foundational pillars of a transformative, empowering education, and they thrive most when we are together in person.
Coming together in person allows us to form new friendships, become one community, and grow as individuals. They are the conditions in which we develop as whole persons and create bonds and experiences that last a lifetime.
Of course, this year presents special circumstances that require some members of our community to remain off campus. To that end, we have consulted with students, faculty members, educational experts and many others to develop a thoughtful plan for remote learning that incorporates as much of the in-person Vanderbilt experience as possible.
Yet there’s something truly special when we can all work, live and learn together on our campus, and this is always our ultimate goal. That’s why we have spent the last few months developing a plan—guided by science, data, thoughtful scenario-planning and expertise—to bring students and professors together in Nashville as safely as possible. The engagement that happens on our campus is how we reach the most of our potential and bring it out in others. This is what I have heard time and again in conversations with faculty, students, parents and staff. This is the mission we committed to when we joined Vanderbilt.
In the days and weeks to come, we must draw upon the intellectual and leadership traits that allowed each of us to first earn our places at this esteemed university. Now, more than ever, it’s vital that we recognize our personal responsibility in ensuring that we keep one another safe and allow learning, discovery, progress and personal growth to flourish. And we must come together, with our uniquely Vanderbilt collaborative spirit, to support and encourage one another during the struggles—and the triumphs and joys—that this semester is sure to present. This is a decisive moment when we all must anchor down, step up and do our part.
Whether you are back on campus or are learning and working remotely, I encourage each of you to make the most of the year ahead. Confront complexity and uncertainty, be persuaded by new arguments, learn from data and evidence, and leave the temptation of simplicity behind. Deeply consider how your own scholarship, research, studies and work add to our mission and the part you have to play in contributing to our shared progress and impact. Real breakthroughs happen when people with diverse backgrounds, experiences and points of view work together as we do here at Vanderbilt, especially in times of significant disruption such as we are experiencing today.
Years from now, we will look back at this moment. We can either remember it as a time when our mission and common purpose were eclipsed by short-sightedness, or we can remember it as a time when we dug more deeply and worked harder than ever before to continue exploring new and transformative modes of thought. I believe that, together, we will accomplish the latter.
This is an optimistic belief, but it is not unrealistic; rather, it is grounded in the strength of this community, our One Vanderbilt spirit. Optimism combines confidence and hope. I can think of no better time or place for these two traits to intersect than right now at Vanderbilt. We are facing the very type of challenge that—with its pressing implications and cross-disciplinary angles—we are uniquely equipped to tackle. We have the resources and the expertise, as well as the deeply shared values and moral imperative, to shape the lives of one another and our society for the better for years to come.
Thank you all for your positivity, your energy and your wisdom as we undertake this singular journey, together. Onward!
Chancellor, Vanderbilt University