As I write this, there are emails that have not been sent, there are phone calls that have not been returned, there are piles of boxes and bags around my office. I am working on spreadsheets and fall plans, anxiously awaiting the return of our students to campus. The joy and exhaustion I feel is like that of Christmas and the holiday season.
We have been living in an upside-down world in higher education for three semesters now, and being able to be begin planning for in-person gatherings, coursework and seeing students face to face makes me overly excited. There is also a new energy on campus that only comes around during the summer in the week before students move on to campus.
And while I am beyond thrilled, I am also anxious. It is not lost on me that while we are moving on and beginning to meet in person again, we are also still in a pandemic. There is the rise of the delta variant, and the first few cases of the lambda variant are also being reported here. Students are gearing up for living on campus and are energized — while also remining hesitant. And I get it. We are all ready to be together, to see one another, but we also know the realities of life and the pandemic are weighing on us and influencing our plans and decision-making for fall activities.
Our fall will go a little like this: Students will move in, orientation week will take place, trainings will happen, new staff and faculty will be introduced and courses will begin. All the while, there will be testing, masks in classes and altered food distribution in the cafeteria. We will have our courses moved into our normal classrooms, but lecture in masks and face shields. We will plan for fall sports, while noting the rules and regulations we must follow from our conference.
We will stand in the in-between this entire semester, if not entire year. The in-between of wanting to move forward, leaving the hardships of the last three semesters behind us, while also living and holding on to what our current pandemic status means for the daily operations of our lives.
As we stand in this space, there are things that I want to keep from this pandemic time. I want us to keep the connections we made. The way we checked in on one another, the way we shared our joys and our sorrows. These connections brought life and energy to our campus in new ways. When we were unable to be in person or gather, we found ways to be together.
This opened us up to new ways of being. Using technology and humor helped us make it through that phase of our life together. These new connections are things I hope we do not lose moving forward. With the ability to be in person again, I hope we do not forget the creativity and connections made. I hope that we do not let go or lose the value of those new ways of being community together.
As we are able to be back together, I hope we let go of our idea of perfection in our community. When life and college moved online, that posed many challenges for those who are less tech savvy than others in our community. And even those who were tech savvy cannot control things like internet connections or stability. Together we had the awkward Zoom introductions, waded through bad connections and figuring out how to speak with one another in a way that wasn’t just a mess of voices coming from the faces on the screen. We also had to learn how to share information via screen shares, learn to communicate what time zones we were in and work around schedules of life at home in order to gather with those on the screen.
It was clumsy. It was rough. It was comical. It was perfectly imperfect. It opened us up to one another in new ways, allowing those we gathered with to see us and see us when we were not perfectly put together. I hope as we gather again in person, we remember these lessons, and that we let go of needing to be put together all the time. I pray that we can be vulnerable in this setting much like we were vulnerable in our online community.
Students will move on to campus, and the academic year will begin. We will be together in person again. It will be joyous. It will also be a nervous time. We will look forward with excitement to events and life together, while also living in the reality that the pandemic is not yet over. My hope as we begin our year is that we remain excited. That we keep the connections we made while we were physically separated. And that we remember to let go of perfection and trying to have it all together because in our vulnerability, we were able to grow with one another. So, welcome fall 2021! We are anxious and excited for your arrival.