Last week, I delivered a State of the University address. The annual speech is a chance for me to look back at where we’ve been and look ahead to where we’re going. This year, it felt especially important to gather our community and take stock. And I realized that what we’ve gone through over the last year at Pace University is a microcosm for what we’ve gone through over the year as a country.

The past year has been hard—hard for us as individuals, hard for higher education, hard for our country. At colleges and universities across the country, we’ve dealt with remote education and remote life, with social distance and occasional lockdowns, with the risk of infection and, in some cases, positive cases. We’ve worried about keeping students on track in their studies, about maintaining enrollment, about balancing our budgets amid decreased revenue and increased costs.

And yet when I sat down to reflect on the year behind us, and to look at the one ahead, I found myself optimistic. What I saw was, in fact, a year of triumph. As it turns out, 2020 was a year that leaves me deeply optimistic for our future—not despite what we went through, but because of it.

The last year reminded me that the people of Pace, like people across the country, are tough.

We didn’t give up. We didn’t give in. Some members of our community dealt with truly terrible situations—sickness, lost work, loneliness, even the loss of loved ones. We mourned the losses, we supported each other—and, most important, we kept working to meet our goals. I suspect this is what happened at colleges and universities nationwide.

Faculty had to pivot in the space of days to entirely new ways of teaching, even while dealing with enormous new obligations in their own lives. Staff and administrators kept the University operating, even as some had to come in every day to keep our systems running and our buildings secure. Our students never forgot the importance of working toward their degrees. Some faced barriers to travel, some faced financial hardship, some tested positive and had to be isolated. But they kept working, and they kept learning.

And, looking back, I see that we got so much done.

Despite the pandemic, last spring we graduated 2,224 students.

Over the summer, nearly 2,200 new students went through virtual Orientation. And close to 700 faculty members signed up for training to learn how to maximize the possibilities of virtual instruction.

In the fall semester, we processed nearly 10,000 COVID-19 tests through our community testing program. So far this spring semester, we’ve processed another 5,000 and counting.

We hosted 224,714 Pace Zoom meetings since March of last year, with participants connecting from 168 countries and logging a total of 131,879,669 meeting minutes.

Across the country, everyone did what had to be done to make it through this tough year.

We all also kept doing everything we normally do. At Pace, faculty won grants. Students won awards. We recruited a new class of students. We brought on new deans. We raised money. We expanded our online offerings.

Taking stock of all those accomplishments, I know we’re ready to take on the challenges of moving forward. I think that’s true for all of us in this country.

Nationally, we’re ramping up vaccine distribution, and we’re raring to restart our economy. Here at Pace, we’re building an ambitious new strategic plan to move us forward. We’re renewing our commitment to building a University where everyone is included, and everyone is valued. Just last week, thanks to the tremendous generosity of our trustee Barry Gosin, CEO of the global real estate firm Newmark, we announced the Barry M. and Jackie Gosin Center for Equity and Inclusion at Pace University, which will serve as a hub for our work on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We’re all ready to move forward.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy promised to send Americans to the moon not because it was easy, he said, but because it was hard. Because it was a goal that would, he said, “serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”

This last year was hard, and it brought out the best of our energies and skills. Now it is time for our moonshot: To leverage that strength, to value our people, and to lift everyone up. To join together, focus our energies, and boldly move forward.

The lesson of the last year is that we can do it.



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