Letter from the Director

February 14, 2021

I began writing this letter in May 2020, when it became clear that remote instruction would continue through the 20/21 school year. Remember those days? When we took our campus of 35,000 students, faculty and staff from in-person to online in under two weeks? We continued as best we could, hoping we could find a way back to the world we knew, including in-person classes. Our hopes were dashed in May when the administration announced that Summer and Fall 20 would definitely be online. In hindsight, this was absolutely the right thing to do. At the time it did not feel so great. There was talk about possibly being back in-person in Spring 21, but I knew that was a pipe dream. The virus was not contained, there was no vaccine in site in May 20, and Spring semester always starts during the height of  flu season. It was clear we weren’t coming back for the next school year.

So, early on the morning of May 26 2020 I began writing  a new Director’s letter. I wrote one sentence, “Congratulations on completing a complex semester!” which sounded pathetic, so I streamed KQED to catch up on the news in the background while I pondered what to write. They were covering protests that had broken out in Minneapolis over the police murder of yet another black man, Mr. George Floyd. Instead of writing more, I raced to news sites to see what was happening. There I saw the horrific footage of Mr. Floyd’s murder, taken by a traumatized Darnella Frazier, the young woman who had witnessed it.

We all know what happened next and in the following months. Protests against police violence broke out all over the country and throughout the world. A massive and world-changing Black Lives Matter movement took firm hold. We had an inspiring and exhilarating summer, in spite of the loss of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Brianna Taylor, Mr. Ahmaud Arbery, and of so many, many more.

I picked up writing this again on August 23, in hopes of having a new letter in time for a new school year. That day, police in Kenosha, Wisconsin shot Mr. Jacob Blake in the back seven times, paralyzing him from the waist down. Again, I put down my writing. When I picked this letter up the next day, it was reported that a white man armed with an automatic weapon was allowed to walk freely through the streets of Kenosha, shooting randomly. He murdered two people and was allowed to return home to Illinois. He was arrested by Illinois (not Wisconsin) police the next day. Again, I put down this writing. I was beginning to feel it was cursed. The darkness of our times enveloped me. COVID was raging out of control. After a summer of protests, it felt as if nothing had changed. Donald Trump was already declaring that the upcoming presidential election was rigged. Other than the return of students, it felt as if there wasn’t much hope to share, especially in a Director’s letter.

But this is a new year and a new day. First, with the election and then with a vaccine that has been rolled out for public use. Everything is feeling brighter. Yes, we have a vaccine. And with the vaccine we have a new hero, Sandra Lindsay. I woke up early on Dec. 15 to watch Ms. Lindsay be the first in the US to receive the Pfizer vaccine outside of clinical trials. I streamed the tiny New York One video at 6:00am Pacific Time to watch this front-line nurse receive the first dose in her Long Island hospital. Tears came to my eyes as she later told reporters she was hopeful the rollout of the vaccine would be “the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history.”  

Image credit - Queens, NY, nurse Sandra Lindsay  via Twitter/@NYGovCuomo

“I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe,” Lindsay said, ...“We’re in a pandemic so we all need to do our part.” Ms. Lindsay had already done more than her part when she spoke these words. She works at a medical care center that had seen more than 100,000 corona-virus patients since the beginning of the 2020. Her resilience and the resilience of all the front-line health care workers is inspiring. She is the brave beginning of us coming out from under this terrible pandemic.

Darkness was still with us though, and it still is. Ex-President Trump began a campaign to thwart the election during the summer, well before November 2, 2020. His accusations reached a fevor pitch after the election, during November and December, drowning out the progress with the vaccine and the historic victories of the first black Senator from the South and the son of an immigrant in Georgia - Rev. Raphael Warnock and Mr. Jon Ossoff. A mob took over our country's Capitol Building on January 6th, in a violent attempt to overthrow the election. They were contained, Trump was impeached and Republican Senators, for the most part, fell in line behind him. I don't know what this means, we'll have to see. Is this leading to more violence, more kids roaming the streets of Kenosha and shooting people at will? Or is it the end of the Republican Party? Only time will tell. In the meantime, thanks to ordinary people simply doing their jobs, votes were counted. We have a new leadership in Washington thanks to those countless people who tallied and recorded the votes. Doing a job is no longer simple. Election workers faced death threats in some parts of the country, and still they came to work and did their jobs. They rescued the election for the rest of us. They were also the heros of 2020 - the ballot counters and honest officials who accurately reported the votes.

I want us to turn our attention away from the mob and towards Ms. Lindsay. I want us to focus on so many others who are the heros of our time by simply doing their jobs. Here’s to the brave essential workers; especially those who grow, pick, process, sell, and deliver our food supply. Here’s to all who put out wildfires, including the prisoners enlisted by the state of California to fight them. Here’s to everyone whose livelihood brings them out into this pandemic every single day.

Here’s to our faculty and staff who have worked tirelessly to continue to deliver the best education we can. They are there for you, and are doing so very much to support and further your education. Please take the time to thank all of them (faculty and staff) for all that they have done and will continue to do. Let them know how much this means for you.

And here’s to you. Thank you for showing up and continuing your education. Thank you for your resilience, your humor, and your joy. We’ve needed your humor during this long, difficult year.

The world we lived in just one year ago, on February 14, 2020, is over. We don’t exactly know what our “Brave New World” has in store for us; I just hope it is full of Sandra Lindsays, and filled with all of the other ordinary people doing extraordinary things. That is my hope for you as we move forward. Go forward and do extraordinary things.

And, in the words of another hero of mine....“Stay safe. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. We love you.” - Seth Myers.