Our fall semester is officially underway. This is typically a moment to mark new beginnings, to renew our ambitions and to explore all the exciting opportunities around us.
But this is not a typical year. After a year of facing the many challenges of COVID-19 and making much progress, we now confront new difficulties caused by the emergence of the delta variant.
Vanderbilt showed last year that when we come together as one community, we are capable of navigating the changing nature of this devastating pandemic and of protecting ourselves and those around us.
We continue on this path today. The Vanderbilt community has a total vaccination rate of more than 95 percent, and we have followed the guidance of our expert colleagues at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and public health officials to make our campus as safe as possible.
Every decision we have made has been guided by our mission and grounded in our values. This will not change. The university will be dedicated to our mission of learning and discovery as we make ongoing decisions about safety protocols. And, like last year, these decisions will be informed by the best available public health information and in close collaboration with VUMC.
We have all faced tremendous difficulties over the past 18 months, whether you are new to Vanderbilt or returning to campus. It has not been easy. Yet for all the challenges we faced last year, we can look back with a sense of tremendous pride and accomplishment.
We saw how much the Vanderbilt community can accomplish when faced with immense obstacles. Students quickly adapted to new ways of learning and connecting with classmates. Faculty members devised creative solutions to continue teaching and pursuing their scholarship. And our staff continuously adapted its work to accommodate the ever-changing circumstances.
We also learned that the Vanderbilt community can perform at an even higher level than it already had been. In many cases, we accomplished things better and faster than we had in the past. The whole community pulled together to rethink everything from classroom setups to athletic events to our double May Commencement ceremonies. Researchers at Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center played an integral role in developing COVID-19 vaccines and treatments in record time. And we continued to look toward our future, recruiting an incredibly talented and diverse group of new faculty through Destination Vanderbilt, at a time when many of our peers pulled back.
We confirmed that Vanderbilt is a place that blazes its own trail. Many doubted that we could return to in-person learning safely and productively last year, but we were never swayed by these doubts. We did the analysis, we did the work and we moved forward with thought, care and success. We are doing the same this year, through vaccination, masking protocols, opportunities to teach and learn outside, and more. We are drawing upon our values as a university—and rallying around a common purpose—so that we can continue doing the vital work enshrined in our mission. This is what sets Vanderbilt apart, and it is something in which we should all take immense pride.
As we look ahead, it’s difficult to predict what happens next with the pandemic—or other challenges that may lie ahead. But we have proven that, with the full strength of the Vanderbilt community behind us, we are able to harness our diversity of talent to contribute to a greater good.
I wish you all an inspiring first day of classes and look forward to all that is to come in the year ahead.
Chancellor, Vanderbilt University