The future that we will create

This presidential column originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of The Bulletin.

BY REBECCA J. STOLTZFUS ’83President of Goshen College

As I write this column, it has been eight weeks since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, and seven weeks since we asked our faculty to move all instruction online. What we have experienced in these weeks has shattered many assumptions and broken our hearts with losses unimaginable — and borne unequally and unjustly amongst us.

In my (virtual) commencement address to the unforgettable Class of 2020, I said that we will come out of this forced hibernation like bears, hungry and blinking in wonder at a world broken apart, for better and for worse, a world waiting to be re-united, re-imagined, re-formed.

In this 125th year of Goshen College, I share with you these true desires of my heart — these imaginings of the future that we will create as we emerge broken-hearted and yet full of courageous imagination.

We will have deeper trust in our Goshen College community, inspired and encouraged by how we acted all together, how we took care of one another, how the faculty responded to the incredible ask to move all courses online in the midst of a semester, how employees came together in meetings and break-out rooms by Zoom, and how our amazing alumni responded on Together Goshen Day, sharing photos, messages and gifts.

We will become more effective and sustainable as we move fluidly between in- person and virtual modalities. We will think twice before getting on a plane, or even in a car, when a virtual meeting can save time, money and fossil fuels. And we will know with more clarity the irreplaceable preciousness of being together in person, embodied, able to perceive one another’s body language and emotional nuances along with their words.

We will be more connected to our local community. Never have we felt more dependent on one another. And we came together, working with our health care leaders, with our city and county, with other educators, with churches and food pantries, and most of all with each other.

We will be more humble, more vulnerable, more in awe of the world. A tiny scrap of RNA wrapped in a protein envelope has devastated the world we thought we knew. Through our broken places, new insights can enter, as God works for good in all things. We have been awakened to the beauty in the world and in each other.

We will be more courageous, creative and compassionate leaders. This terrible and beautiful time demands it from us. At Goshen College, this is our mission.