Dear Students, Staff, Faculty, Alumni, and Families,

Thank you for your warm responses to last week’s note. The gratitude you expressed to and for our staff and our frontline workers was remarkable. One alumna has offered to host any Amherst College staff members who find themselves in Poland once we are able to travel again. Another has volunteered to help with the “cheering up” efforts on campus by joining Val staff in writing encouraging notes to students. 

This week, it feels as though we are coming to grips with the reality that this period of social distancing, isolation, challenge, and uncertainty may be longer than we had hoped. We’d all like to know when it will end, whether colleges and universities will be able to open on time in the Fall, but there is far more that we don’t know than what we do. Despite it all, we are not only learning forbearance, we are also adapting and realizing that starting up again will be a gradual process and that, ultimately, many aspects of life—and we ourselves—will be changed.

COVID-19 has caused fear, grief, upheaval, and loneliness; it has also led us to appreciate compassion, resilience, selflessness, and adaptability. It has laid bare the social inequalities that too many people live with day in and day out, pandemic or not, and it has caused us, as individuals and as societies, to think more deeply about the balance between self-determination and interdependence, individual freedoms and responsibility to the common good. 

One of the messages I received from our alumni suggests that “we have just been given the rare gift of seeing the world as it could be.” I thought of the blue water in the Venice canals when I read his words and of the children with asthma whose breathing is easier in some cities. He wrote of his hope that our students see how important it is to “flatten the Keeling Curve,” which registers the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. “The Ghost of Crises Yet to Come flits about us daily, hourly,” he wrote. What a formulation, I thought. Soon thereafter, I received a message from one of our faculty members who also wrote, but in a different way, about this “rare gift of seeing the world.” He experiences this period as a moment when our losses prompt us to wonder, and now I paraphrase, who we are, what norms we ought to live by, and what we want from the future. 

I wonder how each of you would answer those questions and whether you find yourselves wondering in similar ways. What will we have learned from this pandemic, this catastrophic loss of lives, the shutting down of economies, the loss of work and income, and the shattering of what we now realize we had taken for granted? One thing we can do now, limited as many of us are in our movements, is continue to learn. We want to help in that process.  

We are convening a series of live-streamed interviews and panels on the current and future impact of COVID-19. We’re currently planning four conversations. I hope you will join us to listen and add your voices to the conversation during the question period. 

Here is the information about our first two conversations so you can mark your calendars: 

On Tuesday, April 28th at 4:30 p.m. EDT, Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz '64 H'74 and private equity manager David Novak '91 will discuss the economic ramifications of the pandemic. Later the same week, on Thursday, April 30th at 7:30 p.m. EDT, we will be treated to a panel discussion that includes Professor of Molecular Biology and Public Affairs Shirley Tilghman H'08, Nobel-winning scientist Harold Varmus '61, and Professor of Pediatrics, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics David A. Kessler '73. Please plan to join us for both events. I’ll share the links in next week’s letter and you will also find them in the Daily Mammoth.

Until then, I send you my hope that you are staying well and also that you’re busy wondering what we can do to make better futures.