Hello Forsyth Tech Faculty and Staff,
I crafted this message on Easter Sunday but waited to send until this morning. The storms just blew through and so I am adding this to the message to say that I hope you and your families are safe and sound following the awful wind and storms. If you need assistance, please reach out to us through Forsyth Tech Cares at email@example.com.
Way back at the end of 2019 during our Winter Break (it feels like it was years ago instead of just 4 months ago), I spent time reflecting on the past year as one of the best years of my life, and looking forward to the hope of a new year and a new decade. At the time, I did not and could not have known what 2020 would actually bring. I was eager to start the year with a renewed sense of purpose and the promise of great things ahead for our college and our communities.
The economy was strong. Enrollment was up slightly in Fall and projected to be up in the coming Spring semester. The graduating class of 2020 in Forsyth County would be the first students eligible for the new Hope & Opportunity Scholarships. At Forsyth Tech, our Imagine 2025 work was moving forward with collective enthusiasm and our Vision 2025 strategic plan had been approved by our Board. We were moving boldly toward tomorrow together — in pursuit of our shared vision: to be a catalyst for equitable economic mobility, empowering lives and transforming communities.
I looked forward to 2020 with the kind of hope described by English Poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson: “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier’.” As I said, 2019 had been a great year, but I believed 2020 promised to be even greater. In fact, that promise was the impetus behind my choice for my “One Word” for 2020: Elevate.
Today, April 12, 2020 is Easter Sunday, just 4 months and 11 days since I committed to #Elevate2020. I hoped this year would be filled with continuous innovation and transformation, and a year of rising to a higher level by increasing student success and more importantly, equity of success for ALL students.
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” (Robert Burns).
Our plans have certainly gone awry and 2020 has been anything but what any of us expected. We are in the midst of the novel Coronavirus COVID-19 worldwide pandemic. Our daily lives have been disrupted in unprecedented ways never before seen in our lifetimes. As a nation we are consumed with fighting this unseen enemy in the only way possible for now — through social distancing, staying safe at home, and washing our hands (the right away). A virus lurking unseen, hiding seemingly everywhere, threatening our “livelihood”, changing life as we know it — claiming lives.
A month ago, we should have been coming together at our annual All Team Day, kicking off Spring Break, launching our 60th Anniversary, and preparing for all the exciting activities that lead us to our biggest day of the year — Commencement. Instead of being together, we were forced to stay away from each other and tasked with doing the impossible: Move everything to remote — including teaching and learning, student support services, and business operations — and do it all while staying safe and keeping our families safe, in the middle of one of the most stressful, anxious and scary situations of our lives. Who had time to think about elevating anything? It seemed as if the best we could hope for was to mitigate how far we might fall as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
On the surface, a goal to Elevate in 2020 may now seem impossible. How could we hope to “rise higher” together when we can’t even be together? And yet, out of the greatest of crises, when hope seems lost, the most profound opportunities often arise. Perhaps this is our year to Elevate after all — perhaps we already have.
When we look back over the past month, it is clear COVD-19 has brought people around the country and around the world together, pushing us outside of our “normal”, and imploring us to find creative solutions to sustain us during our fight to beat this formidable adversary.
Large corporations, like Hanesbrands right here in Winston-Salem, have stopped normal operations, transforming their manufacturing floors to rapidly produce personal protective equipment. Remote low-income students cannot take advantage of free and reduced lunches, so rather than let them go hungry, our schools are offering meal pickup programs for their students and thankfully for our Forsyth Tech students as well. Churches, synagogues and other worship centers are employing virtual and drive-in worship services to keep their faith communities connected and hopeful. Communities are supporting local restaurants by buying meals for pickup or delivery. Nurses, doctors, EMTs and other emergency and medical personnel are making courageous personal sacrifices by putting themselves on the frontlines of this pandemic and doing whatever they can to help people infected with this virus recover. Across the country, K-12 schools, colleges and universities are providing high quality learning at a distance, and also working hard to support the other physical and growing emotional needs of their students. All around us and across the globe, this extraordinary crisis is bringing people together.
Likewise, COVID-19 has brought our Forsyth Tech family together in remarkable ways to fight our common enemy. We find ourselves pushed to do the impossible, do it well and do it quickly. The urgency of the situation demands our full attention, there is no time or space for dissonance to overshadow our collective purpose. We are empowered to serve you, our students and each other without reservation or restriction — to do whatever it takes to remove structural and systemic barriers that prevail under normal circumstances, yet don’t seem so important in the midst of this pandemic.
Perhaps when our “normal” was stripped away, and we were forced to create a brave new normal, our bold and purposeful efforts to survive this COVID-19 storm have actually helped us rise higher together than we ever dared to portend. As empowered servant leaders focused on a high-stakes shared purpose, we have elevated. We have risen together, embracing expanded roles as empowered servant leaders, and together, we continue to deliver exceptional results.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic and its impact is likely to remain with us for some time. Perhaps we should now embrace our brave “new” normal, as simply a brave normal. If we found ways to get around barriers hindering students’ forward momentum and ultimately their success during COVID-19, what is stopping us from continuing to use those same routes or forge new ones around the barriers after? If we were empowered servant leaders during COVID-19, why can’t we remain empowered servant leaders after? If we have been able to elevate, rise, and literally “move mountains” together during this unprecedented COVID-19 storm, imagine how far we can elevate, how high we can rise and how many mountains we can move together once the storm has passed.
April is national Community College Month. While sometimes it seems like celebrating these things is not significant, especially at a time like this, I would argue the way we continue to battle this virus is to stand together and not forget what makes us who we are. This crisis has shown me we truly understand what the “community” in our name means.
Community colleges are in the business of hope and opportunity and that has never been more evident than it is right now. During the past month, I’ve seen demonstrations of incredible care, compassion and courage. I have talked with students who could have dropped out because they faced incredible obstacles, but because of the work we have done together, they still have hope and they are persevering. We have moved mountains – transforming teaching, learning, and service in ways that I never imagined possible, especially from a distance. We have been good community partners who care, sharing our personal protection equipment, (masks and gloves, etc.) to keep workers on the front lines of this virus safe, and eagerly partnering with our school system to make sure our students don’t go hungry.
It is my hope when we return to campus following this storm, we will embrace our brave normal with courage, passion and commitment.
Let’s use this storm analogy to thoughtfully consider what we can learn and how we can grow from this experience.
- First, without rain, nothing grows.
- Second, sometimes storms come for more than just to disrupt our lives, they come to clear our path.
- Finally, I love this saying: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain.” Thank you for bravely learning how to dance in the rain.
We WILL make it through this storm and I predict a beautiful rainbow on the other side.
Our next Facebook Live will be tomorrow, April 14, at 2 p.m. – please join us if you can. It is a great way to stay connected with all of you.
Stay safe at home, take care of yourself and your families, and thank you for caring for and serving each other and our students through the storm.