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Playing Our Best Role in a Global Saga

It’s been said that great people, and great generations, are forged in circumstances that test and refine their best qualities.”

Following are messages from President Schapiro to students, faculty and staff as Northwestern begins Spring Break amid the coronavirus pandemic.


Dear Northwestern Students,

I am truly sorry that this is not the Spring Break any of us expected. Many of you have left our campuses, while others remain in Evanston, Chicago and Doha, as we seek to play our own best role in a global saga—the battle to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

As the parents of a college sophomore and a graduate student, my wife and I appreciate the mix of anxieties and fears that you and your families are feeling.

An important part of any educational experience is celebrating the traditions that bind students together, creating vivid memories for the rest of your lives. This year, you’ve already had to forego a number of treasured traditions such as Dance Marathon, Spring Break activities and study abroad. 

I wish I knew when things will return to normal. The pandemic has been likened to a war, and no one can credibly say when it will end. 

Yet along the way, I've heard stories of kindness and compassion among our students that bring tears to my eyes. Some of you are giving your classmates a place to stay during this crisis alongside your own families. Some of you have organized efforts to assist community members with emergency childcare, or with buying or picking up groceries. And others are reaching out to help in countless other ways.

It confirms my conviction that not only will we get through this, we will be a stronger and more caring Northwestern community as a result.

It’s been said that great people, and great generations, are forged in circumstances that test and refine their best qualities. Today’s challenges may well represent a grand crucible for this generation of Northwestern students — one that prepares you to make an even more profound impact on our world. 

I’m an optimist, but I am also a realist. In the weeks ahead, I hope to give good news to those of you waiting to hear whether you will return for in-person classes. And if you are scheduled to graduate this year at our ceremonies in Evanston, I still plan to welcome you and your families on June 19. We will obviously respect the guidance of health experts and officials so that the public well-being is in no way compromised. Whatever happens, I pledge that we will do our very best to honor you and your accomplishments in the most meaningful way possible. 

My most fervent prayer is to see you all again soon.

 - - -

Dear Northwestern Faculty and Staff,

In any other year, Spring Break is a welcome pause before the final stretch of our academic year and the celebratory rites of commencement. This year, it represents a crucial stage in our efforts to help curb the coronavirus pandemic, while continuing our work as best we can.

However events may develop, the people of Northwestern will shape them in a meaningful way. Our University has a well-deserved reputation for excellence, and that excellence is for a purpose: to make the fullest possible contribution to our world at precisely a moment like this.

So many of you have already been making remarkable sacrifices toward this goal. I would like to thank our staff for their determination, resolve and entrepreneurialism that are keeping the University on course amid such flux. And I thank our faculty for moving swiftly to remote teaching models and for placing the interests of our students at the forefront.

Not only does our research mission continue; it takes on added urgency as we collaborate across disciplines to address the pandemic. I am proud of researchers here who are facilitating desperately needed advances in the treatment of the virus, as well as those who have been prominent in the public eye, offering insight into how individuals and organizations can adapt.

In the coming weeks, and probably months, we will all need extra measures of compassion, patience, resilience, flexibility and creativity. Take care of those around you. Encourage and model sensible, prudent action. And please remember to reach out for help when you need it yourself.

I’d like to offer an observation, one that I’ve been sharing this week with those who ask me how our University is faring. Hundreds of members of our community have written to me in recent days — students, parents, staff, faculty, alumni and local residents. Some had questions, while others expressed concerns. But, in all, it was their kindness that surprised me. Dozens and dozens wished me and my family well; many said that they loved the school and appreciated the hard work we were all doing to keep everyone safe; many praised the work of our Deans and mentioned the names of staff and faculty who have made a special effort to care for students at a time of greatest vulnerability. Reading these, I was literally brought to tears.

We are all learning anew what matters most. Indeed, we will all be remembered for how we handled adversity and how we sought to care for others.

I thank every one of you for your inspiring efforts on behalf of our community.