I have written a lot of letters in the past week: to continuing students, to graduating seniors, to employees and to parents. Here is one more letter to my friends and neighbors throughout the Hill Country.
The past few weeks have provided more than their fair share of poignant images on campus. For me, one of the most poignant images of the past few weeks was soap bubbles blowing across Schreiner’s campus last Tuesday after we announced students would have to finish their semester off-campus.
It has become a traditional rite of the end-of-spring semester for graduating students to put soap in one of the campus fountains so that great, fluffy, white bubbles blow across campus. One of the most celebratory and carefree moments of the spring, this marks both the end of the academic year and the beginning of commencement activities.
This year, those bubbles reminded us that the semester feels like it is ending before it even really began.
Of course, the semester is not over. This week, our extraordinary faculty have — in a record amount of time — taken their face-to-face courses and transformed them into virtual learning experiences that will be underway by the time this column is published.
Our extraordinary staff, too, are putting their offices and services into virtual environments. We will continue to provide counseling, tutoring and career services support throughout this semester. We are even starting up virtual campus activities: from exercise classes to entertainment and from online competitions to lectures.
As appropriate, we intend to share these with the wider community as we all learn to normalize this new situation in which we find ourselves.
As a residential and relationally based educational institution, it was our intention to maintain our learning environment as long as we could. Unfortunately, changing guidelines on both federal and state levels made it clear that maintaining face-to-face instruction would be impossible.
In order to help our families, we made the decision to prorate room and board expenses for the remainder of the semester and provide two weeks worth of pay for students who had worked on campus. I shared with graduating seniors that it is my hope that the uncertainty of this semester ends up providing perhaps their last, best teachable moment at Schreiner.
We always have believed and unapologetically claimed that we have the most resilient and gritty students at any college or university across the nation. And, now, they have the opportunity and the burden of living into that reality.
We believe they will be individuals of integrity and authenticity, people who participate and lead in their communities, critical thinkers who approach their understanding of the world rationally and deliberately, men and women who pursue purpose, lifelong learners who are perpetually curious and standard-bearers of all that is good about being a Mountaineer.
With students now off-campus, our focus is increasingly on our employees. Some employees are working from home, and those who are not doing so are observing the social distancing guidelines that are now so common that I am surprised when I see images from less than a month ago when people did not practice these guidelines.
In partnership with our food service provider, Chartwells, we are providing lunches to all our employees and providing them the opportunity to secure ready-to-heat meals as they leave for the evening. With their typical good humor and commitment to the whole, staff have embraced new temporary roles and responsibilities at the university since — in some cases — their previous roles and responsibilities cannot translate into a virtual environment.
A member of Schreiner’s board of trustees — which has been the steadfast foundation off of which we have made all our decisions — told me last week that the terrible and beautiful truth of a moment like this pandemic is that dark moments provide opportunities for the very best in people to flourish. I have lost count of how many times over the past week this truth has expressed itself on Schreiner’s campus and among students, faculty, staff and friends.
While I know that this truth will continue to express itself in the weeks and months ahead, I cannot help but look forward to next year when — at the traditional and appropriate time in May — great mounds of fluffy bubbles roll across campus.