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We're in this together

Dear Friends,

Amid the uncertainty and fear of the past few days, I’ve been thinking especially about you, Swarthmore’s alumni community. One of the greatest joys of my presidency has been getting to know so many of you — meeting your families, sharing in your memories of this special place, and learning how your experiences at Swarthmore have informed the lives you now lead. My time spent with you has been at times surprising, challenging, even hilarious, but always exhilarating, inspiring, and humbling. Reflecting upon these moments brings me a sense of joy and reassurance during these troubling times.

The current global health crisis has disrupted all of our lives significantly. As you’ve likely seen by now, here on campus we recently made the difficult decision to move to remote learning for the remainder of the spring semester. In addition, we have canceled all in-person events through May 31, including Commencement and Alumni Weekend. We are committed to finding creative ways to celebrate both of these occasions — in person — sometime in the future.

I have no doubt that these were the right responses — made in the interest of the health and safety not only of our campus community, but of society more broadly. Extraordinary circumstances demand extraordinary decisions, as difficult as they may be.

These actions affect our entire community. I feel particularly saddened for our seniors, who have been deprived of the final semester and graduation ceremony they had long imagined. 

As heartbroken as I am that we find ourselves in this position, I am also deeply moved by the ways in which members of our community have risen to this occasion to support our students. In short order, our faculty members have reinvented their curricula, their pedagogies, and even some of our academic procedures to ensure that students will still receive the core educational experience that will help prepare them to go out into the world and serve the common good. They are doing so with empathy and kindness, and a commitment to Swarthmore’s academic rigor.

Our staff members have also displayed incredible resilience, ingenuity, and determination in finding solutions to the myriad challenges brought on by this unprecedented crisis. They have worked tirelessly to ensure that many hundreds of students have been able to return to or locate a safe place to stay away from campus, including making and financially supporting last-minute travel arrangements to those destinations. The College is finding ways to accommodate those who, for a variety of reasons, are safer on campus. And we are providing low-income students with laptops and other equipment necessary to complete their classes online.

We are fortunate to already have in place the Student Emergency Fund, created to offer financial relief to students facing unexpected financial difficulties. In the past week, through that fund alone, the College has fulfilled nearly 70 requests to help students pay for food, utilities, rent, transportation, laptops, home internet access, and other expenses. These expenditures, on top of the hundreds of plane, bus, and train tickets arranged by the Office of Student Engagement substantially exceed the fund’s capacity.  

The events of the past two weeks have once again highlighted Swarthmore’s commitment to our students. That commitment comes at significant cost — one we would not be able to bear without the extraordinary support of our alumni and donor community. If you are able, we ask that you consider supporting the Student Emergency Fund during this difficult time and strengthen our ability to help our students through this global public health crisis. You can make a gift online or through one of the other ways Swarthmore accepts gifts.

Early into this crisis, I wrote to our campus community that, “Though we are temporarily altering our normal way of life, we make these sacrifices in service to the greater good.”

As I shared with students and their families, faculty, and staff earlier this week, 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