Higher Education

Leading with gratitude

For those who know me well, it’s no secret that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Besides the opportunity to prepare and eat some of our family’s favorite home-cooked recipes, Thanksgiving presents a wonderful opportunity to gather with family and friends, to reflect on the past, and to celebrate all for which we’re grateful. 

This week especially, I want to touch on that last part: Gratitude.  I believe gratitude is something we don’t give out enough in our current social context.  To me, it’s an important starting point as we think about shifting our own personal experiences and the experiences of our communities and society writ-large.  That said, I can think of several things for which I’m particularly grateful this year.  One of the biggest ones being you — our Washington University community. 

It’s true that WashU is a special place because of the people.  I’m extremely grateful for you because of your unwavering support of Washington University.  Whether you’re a faculty member conducting life-changing research, a staff member working the night shift in facilities or security, a colleague leading one of our departments, a student fulfilling your passions, a supporter giving financially to help advance our mission, or a member of the wider community joining alongside our vision for the future — you play a critical role in the life and success of this great university.  Words cannot begin to express my gratitude for your efforts and commitment to our shared work. 

As we look to the next year, we know it will be one filled with change and uncertainty.  Here at WashU, we are about to embark on a comprehensive strategic planning process that will help pave the way for our future.  In the year to come, citizens of this country will return to the polls to chart the future course of our nation.  Many of us feel a sense of anxiety around a number of difficult issues looming across the globe.  Meanwhile, many of us also wait for grades, appointments, results, or clarity on whatever it is we seek.

Even in the midst of uncertainty, I’m grateful for the outpouring of the people in our community who are ready to roll up their sleeves to do the important work ahead.  If it’s one thing we do well here at WashU — it’s act.  We don’t sit around and wait when children in our communities and around the world suffer from health disparities and malnutrition.  We don’t sit around and wait when diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s affect our families.  We don’t sit around and wait when individuals in our neighborhoods suffer income disparities and the consequences of segregation.  We don’t sit around and wait when music and art have the power to change our world. We don’t sit around and wait when we have the ability to shape our historical and literary narratives.  And we don’t sit around and wait when our buildings and bridges desperately need enhancement and repair. 

As we look ahead to this next season of our lives, let’s strengthen our resolve not to wait and instead to continue acting.  And let’s do so equipped with knowledge in our minds, tools at our fingertips, resolve in our footsteps, and gratitude in our hearts.  By doing so, we can continue to show the world that Washington University is truly a place of distinction, ready to take on the challenges of today and the opportunities of tomorrow.   

On a more personal note, I’m also grateful for your partnership and friendship as Stephanie, Olive, and I have made this journey back to St. Louis.  You are the reasons why this past year has been one of the best yet and the reasons why this leadership transition has been such a smooth one.  

Speaking of journeys, Stephanie, Olive, and I are grateful for the opportunity to make this journey home.  It’s been exactly a year since we moved back to St. Louis.  In many ways we are still settling, and in other ways, it’s like we never left.  We’ve picked up where we left off with some of our favorite dinner spots and takeout menus (including Imo’s!), with Cardinals games, and with the vast array of cultural activities St. Louis has to offer.  We’ve also reunited with many close family, friends, and colleagues — the people who remind us constantly why this place is home to us. Thank you for all you have done and continue to do to support Stephanie, Olive, and I as we move through this exciting chapter in our lives.  

In his 1984 Thanksgiving letter, then-chancellor Bill Danforth wrote:

“I am also thankful that, with you and many others, I can play a small part in keeping intact the great human chain that perseveres the learning of our species and recreates civilization anew for every generation.  This chain extends back to antiquity and forward into the future — I hope forever. …It is a privilege as well as a responsibility to be part of this historic adventure.”

As Washington University’s 15th Chancellor, I feel called to the same endeavor.  I believe my part is small — and yet I’m extremely grateful I have the chance to help build on our momentum along with all of you.  At WashU, we’re in a unique position to come together and strengthen our legacy of academic distinction, educational access, and our role and impact in St. Louis and for St. Louis.  I look forward to all we’ll continue to achieve together — not just for our sake, but for the sake of all.  

Thank you once again for allowing me to join you as we take part in the journey of a lifetime.  This season, let’s continue to lead with gratitude.