Dear Members of the Elliott School:
I write to you as we experience what is arguably the most challenging time our society has faced in living memory. Some of the most basic things that we took for granted in our lives just a month ago – such as the ability to associate in person – have rapidly, yet necessarily, been denied to us. The futures that we had envisioned for ourselves – the chances to study abroad, the summer internships we had planned, the family gatherings for graduation, the jobs we were hoping to land – seem uncertain.
These are indeed trying times. When our fundamental assumptions about our world are shaken, it can be difficult to know how to proceed. Yet, I cannot tell you how proud I am of how quickly and resolutely our community has adapted to this new normal. Our faculty and staff have worked tirelessly to convert all of our classes from in-person sessions to online instruction. Our students have used their prodigious gifts as digital natives to dive into their online instruction and to maintain a sense of community with their classmates through social media. We have been able to bring back to the United States all of our students who were studying abroad and wanted to come home, and we have been working tirelessly to continue to support our international students – both those who remain in Foggy Bottom and those who rejoined their families around the world.
Please know that as we go through these tough times, we are all truly in this together.
Allow me to take a moment to share with you a portion of my own personal struggle in this time of the novel coronavirus pandemic. My beloved wife, Dr. Leelie Selassie, is an intensive care physician specializing in ventilator management and advanced life support. That means that she is on the frontlines of this fight as she works with her colleagues to save the lives of those who have contracted COVID-19. It also means that every time she goes into the hospital to treat patients, she is at risk of contracting this potentially deadly virus herself. I am simultaneously in awe of her dedication and heroism and deeply worried for her safety. Nevertheless, as her husband, I must do my best to be supportive of her and to manage our home so that she can keep her mind and energy focused on the critical tasks before her. As the father to our children, I must do my best to strike the right balance between maintaining an appropriate level of social and academic structure for them while also giving them the space to just “be kids” in this unusual time. And as your Dean, I must continue to provide the appropriate leadership for our community even as I shoulder the personal challenges that this pandemic has laid on my family.
The months ahead will require us to demonstrate even more flexibility, endurance, compassion and resolve. It is entirely understandable that at times we may not feel that we are up to this challenge.
Whatever the challenges you may be facing, please know that I and the entire team in the Dean’s Suite are here for you. We will do our utmost to help every one of you through this crisis. If we do not know the answer to a policy question as it relates to your studies, we will do our best to get the answer for you. If you are having particular struggles with your finances, we will work with you to locate the help you need. If you are feeling especially isolated and alone, we will find ways to connect you more strongly into our virtual community. Please just reach out to us, so that we can know how we might assist you.
Similarly, I ask that each of you do your part (and then some) to be a supportive member of our community. Reach out to your classmates and peers. You never know when an encouraging word from you is just the thing they needed to hear. If you are blessed with resources, ask what you can do to help lighten the load of someone who needs it. Find ways to be creative in sharing knowledge, opportunities and good cheer with our community. We all need each other.
In recent days, the world lost one of the great soul singers of all time – Bill Withers. Amongst his most famous songs was “Lean on Me,” whose refrain goes like this:
Lean on me/When you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend/I’ll help you carry on
For, it won’t be long/ ’til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on.
Friends, now more than ever is the time for us to lean on each other. And as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II said in her recent address to her nation and the British Commonwealth, “We will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again, we will meet again.”