I know your lives have been upended in multiple ways by this public health crisis and you are adjusting to an ever-changing new normal. All of us at Warren Wilson College are with you in spirit as you navigate the emerging impacts on yourself and your loved ones. We are thinking of you.
This week, the College made the difficult decision to send our students home for the semester as COVID-19 became a global, national, state, and local emergency. In all honesty, it was the most difficult decision and most concerning situation I have faced in my long career in higher education.
It’s heartbreaking to see campus so still and silent, when it should be buzzing with activities. It’s difficult to see how much pain and anxiety people are feeling during these uncertain times. I feel for our seniors, who were supposed to be finishing their last semester at Warren Wilson but instead are mourning the loss of their last few months on campus.
And yet, there is also light.
Yesterday I began my day reflecting on the pandemic, knowing that our students were waking to a day of packing and planning journeys that would be difficult and in many cases solitary. As the sun rose, I thought of all that has been put on hold in our lives, and as is typical in my morning meditation, epiphanies began to bubble up. I’d like to share a few of these with you. If these uncertain times are also giving you new insights or gratitude, I invite you to share a sentence or two on our Facebook page for others to read.
First, I believe when this settles we will all have a new and deep understanding of the importance of community. No doubt we have taken our various communities for granted, at times resenting the time and energy they require. With almost all of our obligations to show up — at church, at school, at events, at clubs, with friends — disappearing from our calendars, we are suddenly at sea with only a computer screen and a few close family members and friends to hold onto. We cherish these interactions now, and many are looking for ways to connect. In my campus neighborhood, Professor of Global Studies Jeff Keith began a new tradition of the social distance bonfire. Keeping a healthy distance, neighbors have decided to take turns gathering outside in the cool spring evenings. Some of us are finding that a meeting six feet apart is better than a meeting in front of a computer screen. When this is over, and it will be over, I believe we will emerge with a renewed understanding of human interaction, with a new deep sense of caring for others.
Second, I have seen multiple occasions when people put others before themselves, even as grocery store shelves emptied and our inboxes were filled with alarming COVID-19 updates. Because my refrigerator chose this moment to break down, I have been in the grocery store more than usual. I’ve seen people hand over a loaf of bread to another, speak to each other in a spirit of community in the check-out line, express concern for the employees who have no option to “work from home.” Yesterday, I was wearing my Warren Wilson sweatshirt and met a cheerful Warren Wilson alumni in line who offered this joke: “Want to hear a coronavirus joke? You won’t get it.” Dark humor indeed, but all of us laughed in this warm and shared moment. Would we even have spoken before? As we adjust to remote learning, faculty and staff are supporting students in both traditional and new ways, helping them navigate through this time of anxiety and uncertainty. Our community has been supporting each other with offers of shared resources, including, yes, toilet paper.
Finally, spring birds are returning to the mountains, daffodils and rose of sharon are blooming, the weather is warming and the days are longer. We may have more time to spend with our kids, more time to take up new skills or hobbies, more time to read, more time to reflect. And we can all think of ways that we can support those who don’t have that time in this moment.
This week, I ended my email about closing campus this way: “Remember that a community is not solely dependent on location. Our community is strong and resilient, and together we will get through this challenging time. We will be connected to each other differently, but we will be connected. I encourage each and every one of you to continue to support the members of our community and to remain engaged with Warren Wilson no matter where you are for the next few months. I will remain on campus in the president’s house and plan to send regular communications via video and email. Faculty and staff will be reaching out to students to support them electronically. The Owls will return, stronger than ever.”
Thank you, Owls. I am grateful for you.
President Lynn Morton