Today is a Thanksgiving unlike any other in recent memory. No doubt as you read this, you and your loved ones may be preparing a smaller meal to be savored only by those in your household. Your table is set for immediate relatives and with one extra place setting – where your laptop or mobile device will be stationed to virtually connect with family members and friends who cannot join you in person.
This sounds like the Thanksgiving my wife, Barbara, and I are celebrating today in Westfield. Our children and grandchildren live thousands of miles away, and this year will be the first in many we have not gathered in person. We miss our family very much and long to be with them as much as you likely wish to be with yours. We also miss petting and playing with our two Brittanies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made this a highly challenging year. For some, it has even been tragic; the quarter-million deaths (as of press time) are being felt by families in most every state, county, and city or town.
Despite this immense adversity, 2020 has shown us that we as a community and as individuals can move mountains and face challenges with bold vision and swift precision.
Here at Westfield State University, for example, we transitioned to being a virtual institution last spring in a matter of two weeks, and faculty and staff were able to transition their work lives to being completely remote. Not too long ago, being away from the office was frowned upon by employers. The pandemic has likely changed that forever.
We have offered our students flexibility with temporary pass-fail and remote-learning options while working to maintain a robust sense of community for safe interaction with their peers as well as with faculty and staff. We have also created even more flexibility in our admissions process. For prospective students applying to Westfield State, they can now choose whether to submit their SAT scores.
The pandemic has created change everywhere, and in the last few months, I have observed the following:
• Zoom meeting interruptions from a dog barking, a child chatting, or a cat strolling through are welcome distractions. These moments are humanizing and relatable by all on the Zoom call. I often have Barbara pop into our Zoom meetings, and I enjoy meeting my colleagues’ children, partners, and pets;
• Higher education remains highly relevant and in demand, despite life seemingly being on hold all around us. College campuses serve as a microcosm of broader society; we are figuring out how to get it done;
• In the face of pandemic stress, our students have shown resiliency, despite the recent increase in COVID-19 positive test results across Massachusetts and on our campus; and
• For the greater good, we have all reprioritized how we live our lives in 2020.
You may have read that Westfield State activated its curtailment plan earlier this month, further limiting person-to-person contact. I appreciate the continued patience