A year ago today, I sent you an email that still feels unreal.
At 11:48 a.m., March 12, 2020, I announced we were canceling classes so faculty and staff could spend that week ahead, as well as the spring break, moving all instruction online. We also asked all employees who could, to begin working remotely. It was an abrupt, unparalleled and scary change. We had to protect people, continue our mission and prepare for COVID-19’s regional emergence.
We did the best we could under incredible circumstances. Life and work adjusted on our campuses. We continued to follow county, state and federal health experts, guided by science. We experienced ups and downs, but we transformed teaching and learning in two weeks. Our response was remarkable.
It was the beginning of a hard year. We lost sleep, health and stability. Some of you lost friends and loved ones. Yet, we kept going, regrouping, collaborating, supporting, improvising and learning along the way. We have all tried to do our very best while protecting ourselves and caring for our families through a year of uncertainty, sacrifice and pain.
I am grateful to each of you. I saw the many ways you helped keep UWO safe and running this past year. It has not been easy. Less freedom in residence halls. Restrictions on dining and gatherings. Furloughs. New roles and responsibilities that shifted our duties and asked us to staff testing centers and COVID-19 hotlines. And, of course, makeshift home office setups, Wi-Fi frustrations and everyday masking, distancing and hygiene habits.
Today, a year after my fateful email, let’s take stock. We have a UWO COVID-19 positivity rate at .6 percent. Vaccines are here, and they are working. We feel the light brightening. Campuses are springing back to life. We are playing sports, staging plays and planning for UWO Sesquicentennial events later this year. Through it all, we have exemplified the Wisconsin Idea, providing testing and vaccination for our broader communities. Our resilient university—survivor of wars, economic disaster and pandemics—stands tall. Again, it’s all thanks to you.
In stark contrast to a year ago, today is a day of reopening.
I am proud to announce that thanks to your selfless efforts and commitment to defeat COVID-19 we can and will take another step forward as we reconvene in-person commencement ceremonies this May.
For graduating seniors especially, this good news understandably triggers a thousand questions. I ask you to please be patient. In the weeks to come, we will offer more details about our plans to safely stage commencement in multiple ceremonies at Kolf Sports Center. Capacity limits, masking, distancing, ticketing, seating, parking and other logistics are coming together. We may be back in Kolf, but it won’t be exactly like traditional commencements. Safety is our biggest priority. We know spring graduates want to make plans. UWO event planning and Emergency Operations Teams are working hard on details. More to come.
Meanwhile, don’t let your guard down. Help us keep UWO COVID-19 testing and vaccination trending in the right direction. We are doing our part to stamp out the virus.
I hope today’s news offers you some joy. It is a small piece of what you deserve.
Thank you for everything you do to keep one another safe and help UWO continue on this path to the better days ahead.
This post was originally shared with the UWO community as an email on March 12, 2021.