Image courtesy of the University of Akron
While 2020 was a year of hardship, it was also, for those of us at The University of Akron, a year of hope. What I have seen over the past year from our students, faculty and staff has given me tremendous confidence about our future.
One evening last October, my wife, Georgia, and I stood on the lawn of Buchtel Hall and led a toast to commemorate the 150th anniversary of this beloved institution. Thousands of alumni and friends, participating virtually around the world, raised their glasses with us. For a moment, they forgot the pain of the pandemic, and celebrated. In the midst of darkness, it was a moment of light. In the midst of sorrow, it was a moment of joy. It was a moment of immense pride, of immense hope.
It was one of many such moments in our yearlong sesquicentennial celebration, in which we proudly remembered the achievements of this University over the past century and a half. For example, we offered the world’s first courses in rubber chemistry and launched groundbreaking programs in polymers and biomimicry. Our business, engineering and psychology programs have been ranked among the country’s best. We are home to the nationally recognized E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall and one of only two national centers of choreography. Our programs in the arts, music and literature are some of the best in the country. Clearly, we have many reasons to be proud. In recalling our past, we found strength and inspiration to rise above the challenges of the present.
It is no surprise, then, that when COVID-19 hit — forcing students to transition to online learning; to see their campus emptied and filled with signs, plexiglass and hand sanitizer stations; and to experience graduation on the screen rather than the stage — the response of our campus community was remarkable.
Many of our faculty and staff worked 14-hour days and seven-day weeks to rapidly transform their courses and the campus environment. In the face of nearly overwhelming technical and emotional challenges, their commitment to serving students never wavered. I cannot express how grateful I am for their efforts.
Our students, in turn, demonstrated extraordinary resilience and patience — and even heroism. Our nursing students traveled to New York, an epicenter of the outbreak, to treat patients. Our emergency management and homeland security students distributed medical equipment to health care workers. Engineering students used 3D printers to make face shields. Education students created an online homework hotline for K-12 students and their families. A law student created a website allowing healthy young adults to deliver groceries, prescriptions and other necessaries to housebound and at-risk individuals. Many other inspiring examples could be given.
On our website, we are currently nominating “Zips Who Inspire,” members of the University community who have inspired us through their work, talents and generosity. While there are too many to count and name here, I would like to nominate all of the students, faculty and staff who have proven that nothing, not even a pandemic, can suppress the spirit of an Akron Zip. Like the phoenix on the University’s seal, we continue to emerge from the flames of trial, to renew and reinvent ourselves.
Quite simply, we keep rising.
That is why I am hopeful. That is why you should be too.