Speeches & Commentary

Welcome to the 2020-2021 academic year

Sunset behind Brookings Hall

Dear members of the Washington University community,

It’s hard to believe the start of our 2020-2021 academic year is finally here! For the majority of students and faculty, today marks the first day of classes, while our Brown and Law School colleagues and students have been engaged in coursework for three weeks now. No matter where you are currently located or your educational status, we’re glad you are with us!

For those joining us virtually this semester, know that we will miss seeing you on campus. For most of you, this semester isn’t going to be what you hoped for or expected, and I can assure you it won’t be the same on our end either, especially without you in our midst. For those joining us in-person or throughout the St. Louis region, we also understand and acknowledge that this isn’t ideal. We wish very much that we could gather together, be fully present as a community, and hold the usual events that mark the beginning of this academic season.

Though this semester is nothing close to typical, there’s still something to be said for the excitement and anticipation that has filled our campuses once again. Those of us who have been on the Danforth Campus at all this spring or summer can attest that it has been eerily quiet — and for some of us, lonely. The six-month span from March until now, when so few students, faculty and staff walked our campus, is one of the longest stretches of unused sidewalks, empty classrooms, and vacant green spaces in the university’s history. And while the Medical Campus has stayed busy these past few months, the return of medical students is also a welcome reminder of the intrinsic link between the education, research, and patient care aspects of our mission.

Needless to say, over these past few weeks, something has changed. And that something is the energy that comes from our students. The excitement you bring to seeing your classmates and engaging in coursework, whether in person or online. The passion you bring to your studies. The leadership you bring to your extra-curricular activities and service to this community. The way you remind our faculty and staff exactly why we are here doing the work we do.

To all of our returning students, thank you! Thank you for enduring this unprecedented season of life with the resilience, flexibility, and determination that have set you apart as WashU students. And for our first-year, transfer, and exchange students, thank you for doing the same, and welcome! We are thrilled you have officially joined our community.

For all of our faculty and staff, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — there’s no way we could have pulled this fall semester together without you, your impeccable attention to detail, your abiding commitment to our mission, and your passion for our students and families. As I said in my blog post last week, “You have come up against significant obstacles these past few months, and you have risen to the occasion time and time again.” For that I am immensely grateful.

Although this marks the beginning of the academic term and the culmination of a great deal of hard work and planning, the work is not over. There are going to be periods of adjustment, and there are going to be times when we need to shift gears. There will be speed bumps and difficulties, but one thing will remain unchanged — that we are in this together.

No matter where you are and what your role is — you are every bit a member of this community, and we will navigate this uncharted territory together as the distinctive community that has defined Washington University since our founding in 1853. This is my promise to you, and even despite our current circumstances, I look forward to seeing all the ways we will persevere, building on the incredible momentum we already have in place as we pursue our mission to improve lives in service of the greater good.

Welcome, once again, to the 2020-2021 academic year. Warmest and safe wishes as you immerse yourselves in the fall semester in the days and weeks ahead.