May 07, 2020

Letter from President Wiewel, May 7

My weekly letters have sought to keep you—our students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, donors, and friends—informed about the ways we are responding to the impact of COVID-19 on our community…

Dear Lewis & Clark Community,

My weekly letters have sought to keep you—our students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, donors, and friends—informed about the ways we are responding to the impact of COVID-19 on our community. They have also given me an opportunity to share some of my own reflections while we navigate this altered reality together. As this academic year draws to a close, and over the course of the summer, my messages will appear less frequently. Be assured, however, that we will continue to update you about important things happening on Palatine Hill. And I hope to see many of you in person as soon as it is safe to do so!

This week I am focused on our graduating students in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School of Education and Counseling, and the Law School. While we are not able to hold our traditional spring celebrations, my message for you graduates is simple: There is nothing virtual about your accomplishments. They are real, substantial, and enduring.

The way we are now celebrating you is not how any of us imagined just a few months ago. It is okay to reflect on and be sad about what might have been—what should have been. We should have had the triumphant processional, the excited cheers, the tears for friends who are leaving, and the memories of hardship overcome. We should have had the proud parents and partners walking with you across our beautiful campus and posing with Mount Hood in the background.

It is also important to take time to celebrate what you have done and what you are taking with you. The world you are entering is not a world you have made. But it is a world you can make over. You have the knowledge, skills, and experiences to do exactly that. That is because of your education and experiences at this school, our school.

We educate for complexity and uncertainty. So, you should feel as ready as anyone can be for today’s circumstances. You can tolerate the unknown because we required you to read widely and to think critically. We asked you to question long-held assumptions, biases, and received truths—beginning with your own.

You make your own way by reasoning analytically. By clearly defining the problem. By taking into account other perspectives, beliefs, and worldviews. By imagining how things might be different, and then constructing ways to make that happen.

Your skills and knowledge have no expiration date. Flexibility, collaboration, global awareness, communication, mental agility—these things will stay with you. They will serve you well no matter what you choose to do next.

Here, you have been part of a community that demonstrates care and support more than anywhere else I’ve ever worked. Critical thinking and care build your capacity to see, think, and act beyond your own self-interest. This is how we move together toward the global good. This is how and why you give me hope.

Let us use this crisis to speed up necessary changes in ourselves and society. Let us deepen our appreciation for family and community rather than fear and distrust the world at large. Let us retain the new ways we value quiet, a daily walk, the slower pace. Having seen both good and bad leadership under stress, let us become better leaders. Let us increase our respect for frontline workers, those who keep things going under dangerous circumstances.

I ask that you take all that you have learned through hard work and sacrifice during your time at Lewis & Clark, especially these last few months, and do this: Thank people who help you. Give the benefit of the doubt to those who don’t. Remember that generosity and compassion require no quid pro quo.

When you feel like you’re fighting uphill, that often means you’re moving in the right direction. Toward equity. Toward justice. Toward solutions. Toward the good. Keep moving, but also acknowledge not everyone will move at the same speed. Whatever you build, make it sustainable. Measure value not just by return on investment but also by whom it benefits, the good it advances.

Remember: We are always a community. And we will always be here for you. Finally, know this: This is your time. This world, with all its staggering problems, still holds immense promise. Make that promise real.

Let me end once again with a poem by Oregon poet laureate and Lewis & Clark Professor Kim Stafford:

A heaping dose of darkness,

a slender pour of light,

a ringing spoon of silver

transforming wrong to right.


Deep inside the darkness let

a glimmer be revealed,

a slender path ahead

to where we will be healed.


Dark and light together—

loving how they swirled.

Now you’ve had your coffee,

go repair the world.


Go repair the world, graduates, and don’t forget to tell us how you are doing!

Wim Wiewel