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An Update on the Spring Semester

Valerie Smith shared the following message on March 17 with the campus community:

Dear Faculty, Staff, Students, Parents, and Families,

I write to share the disappointing news that we must extend our period of modified operations and remote learning through the end of the spring semester.

When we first announced our transition to temporary remote learning last week, our understanding of the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 was very different. We didn’t presume to know how, or how quickly, this unprecedented situation would unfold. We took an interim measure in hopes that students could return to campus and conclude the academic year under more normal circumstances.

Since then, COVID-19 has evolved into a global health crisis unlike anything in recent memory. In light of that reality, and given government and health professional recommendations about the best ways to mitigate the spread of the virus, we have concluded that this decision is now necessary. Though we know this is the right thing to do for the health and safety of our community, and society more broadly, it is no less heartbreaking.

You will undoubtedly have many questions about what this decision means for you. We have begun working through the myriad logistical details involved, such as identifying a solution to returning personal belongings to our students. We will provide you with additional information in the days ahead. But we wanted to share this decision with you as soon as possible, particularly so that our students and their families can adjust their travel plans accordingly.

In the meantime, let me remind you of the core principles that continue to guide us through this uncertain time:

  • Our creative and dedicated community will do all that it can through remote learning to nurture the extraordinary dimensions of a Swarthmore education.
  • We will support members of our community and mitigate the financial and other burdens on students and their families who are now facing fresh challenges with remote learning environments. 
  • We will continue to provide housing and dining to students who have no other safe place to be, and we will help those who want to leave campus get to a safe and comfortable place.
  • We will ensure that all students have the ability to meet their academic requirements and encourage flexibility around certain policies, practices, and requirements given the circumstances.

In light of the continued uncertainty of this still-expanding pandemic, we have also come to the especially difficult realization that Commencement cannot proceed as usual. I appreciate how upsetting this decision is for many of you, and in particular for our seniors and their families. All of us were looking forward to gathering together under the canopy of tulip and white oak trees in the Scott Amphitheater to celebrate your many achievements. Please know that we are committed to developing a creative virtual alternative to this year’s ceremony. I ask you now to hold the date — Sunday, May 24 — as we discuss those plans with Student Government Organization leaders and others. In addition, we look forward to finding ways to welcome back to campus and honor the Class of 2020 in the future.

Alumni Weekend, spring athletics, Celebrating Black Excellence events, lectures, performances, and other campus activities scheduled between now and May 31 are also canceled. 

Wherever possible, we will find ways to make up for these missed opportunities for classmates and the community to come together in person.

We take these extraordinary steps with a single purpose in mind: to do all that we can for the health and safety of our community — on campus and beyond — by limiting the spread of COVID-19. We will, of course, continue to take whatever measures we can to keep the campus community safe for those who have to be here to maintain the College’s critical operations.

Again, my colleagues and I will communicate additional details in the days to come.

I am deeply sorry for the lost opportunity to share with you the quintessential experiences of Swarthmore’s residential education for the remainder of this academic year. As I weighed this difficult decision — recognizing all of the disappointment it introduces into our lives — I was also reminded of how uniquely prepared we, as a community, are to handle such unprecedented circumstances. We are creative thinkers; we are problem solvers; we are nimble minds adept at confronting even the most unpredictable and complex challenges; and we are resilient spirits in the face of unexpected setbacks. Perhaps above all, we are compassionate and empathetic members of a global society. In short, as we proceed through the remainder of the semester, I know we will exemplify all that Swarthmore stands for.

I want to close this message by echoing a note I shared with you last week, in which I wrote, “Though we are temporarily altering our normal way of life, we make these sacrifices in service to the greater good.”

Upon reading that, an alumnus (who is also a member of our Communications staff) shared with me the photo below. It shows a stone located at the base of Parrish Hall with an inscription of the Class of 1918’s motto, “Non nobis sed omnibus.”

1918 Non Nobis

The rough translation to English is “Not for ourselves only, but for all.”

These words bring me comfort during this difficult and uncertain time. I hope they do the same for you. 

Valerie Smith