Grateful for Our Emory Community

An aerial view of the Emory campus in fall

Dear Emory students, staff, and faculty,

Traditionally, I would be writing a simple Thanksgiving letter to you today. This letter would wish you safe travels. It would encourage our students to study as the semester enters its final weeks. It would suggest that you all take well-deserved time off to relax. It might even include an attempt at humor — perhaps a quip about passing the mashed potatoes. In an ordinary year, this would all seem appropriate, even the corny joke. But while I do wish you all of these things in 2020, I feel it’s more appropriate to focus this message on what we’ve been through during this strange and unpredictable year and, most importantly, to express how grateful I am for what you’ve been able to accomplish in spite of everything we’ve faced. 

Just a few short months ago, we were preparing to do something that had never been done before in our university’s modern history — carry out our education, research, and health care missions in the face of a global pandemic. The unknowns were numerous, and the preparations were extensive, representing a sweeping departure from our normal modes of operation. Yet throughout this pandemic — even as you dealt with the impact of the virus within your communities and especially on your families and friends — you rose to the occasion.

Frontline staff members reconfigured our campus, found creative new ways of making our facilities accessible and safer for everyone, all while facing the risks and uncertainty generated by the spread of COVID-19. Staff and administrators from across schools and departments pivoted to remote work and continued to support our operations with creativity and commitment. Faculty embraced innovation from top to bottom, reimagining their courses for both in-person and virtual settings, conducting innovative and imaginative research, and never ceasing to find dynamic new ways of making powerful connections with their students. And about those Emory students . . . well, they deserve a paragraph of their own!

Students, you have been our heroes this semester. I know that you are tired now and that this pandemic has tested you. Yet your resilience has helped get us all to this point. At every turn, you adapted to a situation that was uncertain and constantly changing. Some of you came back to campus while others learned from home. Regardless of circumstance, you found ways to pursue your educational goals at Emory. And you spoke out on key issues — leading the university forward as we deepened our commitment to racial justice and helping to spur voter and civic engagement. This was not the semester you signed on for when you committed yourselves to an Emory degree. Yet, you made it special and deeply fulfilling. You left your mark — an imprint on this university that will not soon fade.

This has been a very difficult and confounding year, but it’s clear we have a lot to be grateful for as a community — including the recent breakthroughs by Emory scientists and physicians who have helped lead the effort to develop and test a life-saving vaccine for COVID-19. The adversity we have faced has been matched by the ingenuity and dynamism of our incredible academic community and we should be proud of what we’ve accomplished. So, take time to rest and reenergize in the coming days — you deserve it — but also consider how you can build on the progress of the semester: whether it’s by continuing to strengthen your connections and sense of community online, getting involved in the Georgia runoff elections if you are Georgia residents, or dedicating time to public service. 

We’ve reached a major milestone in this fall semester, but there’s still much more to be done. Have a very happy, and healthy, Thanksgiving. We’ll see you — online — next week.


Gregory L. Fenves