Glad to be here

Class outdoors on campus in August

This morning I walked onto campus and felt a profound sense of gladness and gratitude. Conversations and meetings were happening under big white tents, people were walking about with masks on, and the sun was shining. I thought to myself: If we must live through this ordeal (and indeed, we must), this is the community I want to be a part of.

Creatively cautious, most students are being served the food they select from our dining hall in a reusable “green box,” which they take outside to eat under a tent or on the grass. They trade in the used box at the next meal for a clean one to be refilled.

Cautiously creative, our choirs are singing in masks and safely distanced, rotating between well-ventilated Sauder Concert Hall and two different outdoor tents so that they sing for no more than 30 minutes in any one space. They sound wonderful, as you can experience on our Music Department’s Facebook page.

And while this virus is sneaky and hard to predict, I am very glad that so far we have had only one student and one employee test positive, and both of them are now well and out of isolation. Next week will tell its own story, but for the moment all is gratitude. 

I am also coaching myself and others not to become complacent, because this is really hard. Sometimes I want to retreat to my home office, where I could hold weekly Zoom meetings with other private college presidents wearing my pajama pants. Today I had lunch with a business colleague, sitting outdoors downtown. One moment, I felt how wonderful it was to be (almost) normal as I sipped iced tea with my mask at my side. A moment later, I put the mask back on, thinking: don’t let down your guard!

These internal oscillations are exhausting, and charmingly expressed in Frog and Toad tentatively go outside after months in self-quarantine. One of the stories ends with the friends standing outside a restaurant:

“Toad,” said Frog, “I do not feel it is safe yet.”
“I was about to say the same thing,” said Toad.
They were being cautious.
It was a good warm feeling.

Caleb Shenk, one of our great new students, put it this way in today’s issue of our weekly student paper, The Record:

“I’m very grateful to be at Goshen where it feels like health and safety are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Talking to some of my classmates, we are in total agreement: masked and distanced in-person learning is vastly superior to mask-free, at-home learning, and we are willing to make those minimal sacrifices to stay on campus.”

We are all doing our best, feeling cautious and grateful. It’s a good place to be.

Rebecca Stoltzfus