The Hill From A Distance: An inaugural post from President Anderson
Welcome to The Hill From A Distance, a new blog from your College that aims to keep you informed, to inspire you, and to point toward the longed-for day when we can reconvene on campus.
James Lane Allen, an American novelist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, once wrote, “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” He’s right. The adversity visited upon the College and its people by the COVID-19 pandemic has shown a bright light on the character of our college. We don’t panic. We don’t despair. We don’t succumb. We invent. We persist. Oles Can! Oles Will!
Nearly all of our students have left campus to shelter at home and continue their semester online. Just under 200, mostly international, students remain on campus because, for compelling reasons, they cannot return home. We are housing, feeding, and doing our best in constrained circumstances to engage them. Our student life professionals have done a remarkable job of coming up with creative ways for all of our students, whether at home or on campus, to stay connected with each other and with the College and to keep their spirits up.
We are not an online college. From its founding St. Olaf has been committed to the model of residential learning where students live in community with one another and where the learning never stops at the walls of the classroom. Yet the pandemic changed that for the time being. Our faculty had two weeks to reconceive how they would teach their classes virtually. It was a Herculean task. Our faculty were equal to it. When the pandemic has been contained we will return to residential learning, but maybe with a new “muscle” formed by the experience of this virtual semester.
Our students have also been equal to the challenge. Oles have high expectations for themselves. We see that in the way they have been doing the work, staying in touch with their professors, registering for next fall’s classes, and participating in virtual student life programs.
After the threat to health, the most severe impact of the pandemic has been economic dislocation, and our students are feeling it hard. Promised internships have been vaporized, and the job hunt for seniors has gotten much more challenging. The Piper Center for Vocation and Career has stepped up with virtual coaching sessions and many other kinds of support. Partnering with our Alumni and Parent Relations Office, they have also launched Ole Connect, a networking platform for all Oles to build and sharpen professional connections to help and mentor one another.
The adversity visited upon the College and its people by the COVID-19 pandemic has shown a bright light on the character of our college. We don’t panic. We don’t despair. We don’t succumb. We invent. We persist.President David R. Anderson ’74
In times of adversity, nourish your soul. Our counseling center continues to offer virtual counseling sessions, and our campus ministry team is offering daily virtual chapel. I encourage you to worship with them.
I am deeply pained by all of the things the Class of 2020 has had taken from them by the virus. The spring sports season. Senior recitals. Culminating academic experiences like research presentations and seminar papers. Senior week. Baccalaureate. Commencement. When we are able, we will do our best to honor their achievements and to celebrate with them and their families.
The pandemic has disrupted just about everything, but one thing it can’t do is to stop Oles from supporting their college. At the end of May we will have some pretty exciting news about our comprehensive campaign For the Hill and Beyond. Gifts to the annual fund, the St. Olaf Fund, are on track with last year, which was our best year ever. To everyone who has been part of this support, I offer a deep and heartfelt thank you.
Our enrollment team has always excelled at forming close relationships with prospective students and guiding them through the college selection process. They taught themselves overnight how to do that virtually. In a time when they can’t visit schools, and prospective students can’t visit St. Olaf, they are on track to enroll the Class of 2024.
What about next fall? We don’t know what the world will look like on Labor Day weekend, the time when our first-year students normally arrive on campus. We may not be allowed to begin classes on campus then, or we may not believe it is safe to do so. We do not want to have another semester of St. Olaf online, so we are actively imagining scenarios that enable us to open the next academic year on campus, even if that means opening later in the fall. We’ll keep you posted.
This blog is going out to our current students, our alumni across the world, to faculty and staff, and to friends of the College. I think about all of you, about your own safety and well-being, about your care for those you love, about how your days go while you’re sheltering in place. I pray for you. Take care of yourself. Together we will get through this trying time.