University of Minnesota Alumni Association


From the President

Meeting the Challenge

Joan T.A. Gabel

The last few months have been trying ones for our University. For many of us, it feels like the whole world has completely changed.

When I challenged our incoming freshmen last August to cultivate their passion and commitment to define their generation’s moment, little did I know that midway through the spring semester they would be fully immersed in this challenge. Few also could have anticipated virtual or alternative learning as the norm, or the postponement of time-honored traditions, like in-person spring commencement. 

The rapid change and uncertainty that we’ve recently experienced, and that surrounds COVID-19, leaves many of us with an unsettled feeling. I recently read an insightful article in the Harvard Business Review titled, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.” The author, Scott Berinato, interviewed David Kessler, a grief expert, who notes that what we are feeling right now is a number of different griefs—grief that things will be different; the loss of normalcy; the loss of connection; the fear of economic toll, etc. Kessler also highlights the importance in finding meaning in this moment, and as we navigate through this experience. 

So, whatever that meaning is for you now, or will be, I hope it encourages those across our University family to explore more opportunities for self care, like longer and meaningful phone/video conversations with old friends, listening to music, or appreciating a walk. I hope that it helps to reinforce the importance of focusing on the things we can control, and serves as a reminder of the incredible support system our alumni network is and how they can support you to be your best. We all want members of our University family to continue to thrive and grow, but also stay well. 

It’s also important to know that while the challenges we face today are unique, they are not entirely unprecedented.

Over a century ago, our University confronted the 1918 flu epidemic, which brought many new elements of uncertainty to our University community, and even compelled the postponement of class opening. Nearly three decades later, the state of Minnesota experienced a polio outbreak that caused the cancelation of the Minnesota State Fair and delayed the start of school. Interestingly, the University’s radio station at the time, KUOM, produced an on-the-air classroom program called “School By Air” for students quarantined at home—a precursor to the virtual learning our students recently experienced. 

These and other examples highlight how societal conditions have dramatically modified University activities over time. Yet, throughout these challenges, students and alumni like you at all levels—undergraduate, graduate, and professional—have demonstrated the character, strength, and resiliency to ever-reinforce our mission of discovery, learning, and service. And throughout the toughest moments of this challenge, our University community has exceeded all expectations. 

Although I can't individually thank every one of you in person, as I would like to, I do want to express my sincere appreciation for everything alumni and supporters like you are doing to support the University and our most important asset—our people—through this challenging time. 

I would also like to welcome the Class of 2020 into our University alumni family. We all stand in appreciation to you for your flexibility and understanding during these challenging times, and share in anticipation for the day to come when we can all be together again. 

Until then, be healthy, safe, and well—and thank you for all that you do for the University of Minnesota. 

With warmest regards, 
Joan Gabel

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