To the Vanderbilt community,
In March of 2020, the World Health Organization determined that the growing spread of COVID-19 would be officially characterized as a pandemic. It urged the world to prepare for a public health crisis on a scale that few could even imagine. Of course, the year that followed challenged humanity in unprecedented ways, and even now, the pandemic’s staggering loss of life and broad social and economic impact seem unfathomable. Yet the past year brought out the best in many of us. Here at Vanderbilt, while navigating challenges we also excelled and grew together as a community in ways we could have never imagined before.
At this time last year, universities across the nation took their first steps to address the pandemic: sending students home, canceling events, and moving classes online for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester. We all rapidly adapted to a new way of life even as we maintained hope that things would return to normal soon. But it soon became clear that this time of deep uncertainty would stretch on, and that fall would bring a profoundly difficult decision.
And so, we looked to our mission to guide us. We knew we would do whatever we could to advance the interdisciplinary, pathbreaking research that was now more important than ever. And we would find a way to bring students together—enabling them to learn from peers with different perspectives and experience firsthand what it means to do what is needed, even if that path would not be easy.
This was a monumental undertaking by everyone in our community. Staff members worked around the clock for our shared mission and well-being. Faculty continued their research under most challenging circumstances and adapted to new ways of teaching while providing timely and critical mentorship. Students showed resilience and leadership despite limitations on the traditional college experience. Without these efforts, we would not be where we are.
Our successful return to campus in the fall marked only the beginning of what we would accomplish this year. At Vanderbilt, this historic time has been defined not only by its challenges; ours also has been a time of remarkable discovery, innovation and achievement.
Through it all, our world-class research and scholarship continued and led to groundbreaking results. Perhaps most notably—and particularly resonant this historic year—Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt University Medical Center researchers and medical providers played a leading role in developing many of the world’s most prominent COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. And while these breakthroughs happened in record time this year, they are the result of decades of pivotal Vanderbilt research. Moreover, this research largely owes its success to Vanderbilt’s collaborative, cross-disciplinary learning culture—which is now nearly 150 years in the making.
Finally, our year like no other also was my first year as Vanderbilt’s chancellor. I am tremendously grateful and proud to be here with you, rising to whatever challenges may come our way, and looking forward to great things to come.