Dear Colleagues and Friends in the College of Letters & Science,
As the fall semester comes to a close, I am writing to say thank you and congratulations, and to wish you a restful and joyous winter break.
As the solstice approaches, we have nearly completed a semester of return: return to in-person classes, return to working in our campus offices, return to open libraries and coffee shops. You have done amazing, inspiring work sustaining research and teaching, supporting our students, upholding the mission and values of the largest college in the most significant university in the country. And that work this semester has been arduous. Things do not yet feel normal. Many meetings are still online, and our in-person meetings and classes are still masked. We are still deep in the work of recovery.
When campus closed down in March 2020, most of us envisioned that the closure would be short, followed by a return to campus life as we knew it. We thought it would be a few weeks, then a few months, but it kept getting longer and longer. It has often felt like working underground, digging a long, hard tunnel, and hoping for the moment that we would break through into the full sunlight, with the ordeal behind us.
But when we finally reopened campus over the summer of 2021 and returned to nearly all in-person classes this fall, it did not feel like we had broken through to the sunlight with the ordeal behind us. That metaphor doesn’t really work for our present challenges, and I’d like to offer you a different one.
I was born and raised in southeast Alaska, and we lived for several years on a 33-foot sailboat (a Pearson 10-meter, for the sailors among you). Sailing in Alaska can be dicey: huge tides; sometimes whipping winds; jagged, rocky coast. Storms can worsen quickly, and you have to respond: Get the jib down and double-reef the main, NOW!
Sea storms arise because a whole range of factors converge—for example, an outgoing tide plus a gusty, southwesterly wind, plus a swell—but those factors don’t necessarily resolve all at once. The tide slacks and turns, and that reduces the chop, but the wind and swell are still strong. Then the wind slows (although by then it’s probably raining hard), and you’ve just got the rain and the swell. Finally the swell subsides, but it might be days before the sun comes out.
Yet, even before the sun comes out, there can be joy. We have labored together as a true team. We have come very far. We have done very well. We have created moments of triumph, even though we still have much work ahead.
And so, as we complete this semester, I thank you and congratulate you. Thank you for all you have done for our College and our students. Congratulations on your many accomplishments, large and small. Congratulations to our winners of the campus Excellence in Advising and Student Services Awards. Congratulations to the new cohort of the Faculty Leadership Academy. Congratulations for another year of Nobel prizes, elections to the National Academies, and so many other kinds of prizes, honors, and awards. You are amazing.
I wish you a very restful and rejuvenating winter break with family and friends, and sincere best wishes for a happy new year.
Executive Dean of the College of Letters & Science
Professor of Demography and Sociology
"Wave" artwork by Meg Shriver.