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Reflecting on a difficult and remarkable year

Dear Washington University community,

It seems impossible to believe that a year has passed since we began our response to the COVID-19 pandemic here at Washington University. Last March 11, I wrote to you to share the previously unimaginable news that we would extend spring break, close residential housing, and shift to online instruction. At that time, I noted that it was “becoming a rather extraordinary time” for the university and the St. Louis region. Looking back, it’s clear most of us had no idea just how remarkable it would be, and what a sad and difficult period we were about to enter. Nonetheless, in the past 12 months we have proven time and again the resilience of our community, our deep commitment to caring for people, and our ability to act quickly and selflessly in support of the greater good.

As we reflect back on the past year, it is important to note how much we’ve lost and how far we’ve come. In response to the pandemic and myriad other crises, we came together as a community in ways we never could have imagined – supporting one another, finding solutions to complex challenges, and making significant sacrifices as individuals and as an institution. None of it has been easy, and for many in our community, the consequences of the pandemic have been nothing short of tragic. This is especially true for our communities of color, which have been more severely impacted by the pandemic. I want to extend my heartfelt condolences to those of you who have suffered the loss of a loved one, and my compassion to all who have faced – and may be continuing to deal with – your own serious health issues or other significant disruption to your lives due to COVID-19. Please know you are in my thoughts.

One year later, I remain hopeful and optimistic that we are turning a corner. While we continue to see new cases of COVID-19 on our campus, we have adequate resources to support and provide medical care to those who become infected. In the St. Louis region, we are seeing a positive trend with fewer cases overall, increasing hospital capacity, and significant progress being made on the number of people receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Conditions have improved enough that, as long as it remains safe to do so, we will be able to hold in-person Commencement ceremonies this May for our Classes of 2020 and 2021. These are hopeful signs, but we must remember this isn’t over yet. We need to stay the course, keep following our public health principles, and do more of the hard work that has helped us navigate the past year as successfully as we have.

Looking ahead to what comes next, we all are thinking about a return to “normal,” and what “normal” even means anymore. No matter what happens, one thing we know, for better or worse, is that things will never be the same. The past year has changed us, as individuals and as an institution. When we’re able to resume some of our regular activities, we hope in the not-too-distant future, we will do so with an eye toward what we’ve learned in the past year. Even amid all the challenges and frustrations, there may be some things that we find actually worked betterduring this time. We may come up with smarter ways to teach, learn, work, and live from what we’ve experienced. We look forward to returning more fully to an in-person, on-campus experience for our students, faculty, and staff as soon as safely possible. We are eager to be together again and to recapture all that we’ve missed during the past year.

Without question, this year has tested us on many levels. There has been heartbreak and disappointment. But it also has made us stronger. I’m grateful to every one of you for all you have given of yourselves to help us through and allow us to continue to advance our mission in support of research, education, and patient care. In so many ways, you have shown that we truly are WashU Together.


Andrew D. Martin