January 18, 2022
Dear CMC Community,
I hope you have been well during the break and also taken the time to reflect in tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. over this past weekend.
Thank you for surmounting many challenges in getting back to campus, and I wish you and your families all the best in 2022, especially for this coming semester.
We have experienced wild, emotional swings the past two years. Yet, as a close residential learning community, we have continued to persist through the many uncertain changes, necessary adaptations, and protracted challenges.
The repeating cycles of optimism and disappointment feel like we are living some altered version of the story of Sisyphus. After he defied fate, the gods, even death itself in defense of human well-being, the mythical Greek king was condemned to a relentless punishment—ceaseless repetition that required him to push a weighty rock up a mountain only to have it roll back to the bottom as he neared the top.
When contemplating the moment of the king’s despair in having to go back down to do it all over again, Camus taught us that “if the descent is sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy. This word is not too much. … One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Professor Emeritus John Roth, who founded what is now the Mgrublian Center for Human Rights, calls this an in-spite-of joy, a persistent joy through our seemingly unavoidable disappointment. Professor Roth put it this way:
Kindled and sustained by friendship, by the help that we give as well as receive, by doing what is right and good, by love, such joy sustains solidarity with those who oppose and limit harm, relieve suffering, and save lives. Declining to give in or give up, in-spite-of joy can keep people going. … even though the work, at times, may seem to be a forlorn cause.
We learn from Sisyphus, from Camus, from Roth. We persist as a learning community and embrace this persistent joy in confronting the unique challenges of COVID. We find strength in one another, in new learning opportunities, and in a genuine appreciation for what we can yet experience this semester; both the big and small moments.
And here we recognize, too, that unlike Sisyphus, we are not condemned to ceaseless repetition. We will get through this, and through this well.
We have the tools we need to get back to what we do best: to learn together in-person and put our learning to work. The first week or two of virtual classes, the vaccination and booster requirements, the new masks, the frequent testing, the temporary postponements, the restrictions on dining and large events—these are the rocks we must push up our hill so that we can continue to learn and grow together and eventually reach the summit.
Against this immediate phase of disruption and the inconvenience of obstacles to our free social engagement, we carry on. We draw confidence from our 75-year record of perseverance, find joy in our persistence, and deepen our sense of purpose in all of the achievements and opportunities we have in spite of these frustrating conditions.
We look forward to another exceptional line-up of Athenaeum guests addressing the grand challenges of civilization and commerce, unity and division, and science and policy as part of the 75th Anniversary Distinguished Speaker Series.
Hard at work and play throughout the break, our CMS Athletics teams continue to push the highest standard for Division III scholar-athletes after a record-setting fall.
Following the major announcement of our new Robert Day Sciences Center in December, we have built strong momentum to realize our vision for the integrated sciences program.
We also take new steps forward on our Open Academy and report soon on progress through The Presidential Initiative on Anti-Racism and the Black Experience in America.
All of this and more—senior thesis, our institutes, centers, and labs, College Programming Board events, research opportunities and internships, fellowships and awards, family weekend, commencements, alumni reunions, the daily conversations with friends, faculty, and staff—await us on the hill we are climbing.
We will get there. It will all be worth the climb.
Be well and take great care.