Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students:

There’s no doubt our lives have been upended to varying degrees during the past 10 months. COVID‑19. Racial injustice. A roller-coaster economy. Political upheaval and related violence. Diminishing availability of vital health and social services. Devastating natural disasters from coast to coast.

In such a gloomy environment, it’s easy to lose sight of reasons for hope. Yet, as we begin a new semester, hopeful signs surround us.

Effective vaccines for COVID‑19 were developed with unprecedented speed. Though the initial distribution of the vaccines was slower than anticipated, the pace is expected to increase dramatically in the coming weeks.

Despite unprecedented challenges to the legitimacy of the results of our country’s recent presidential election, repeated vote audits and court challenges have unfailingly supported the validity of the results. A new president will be inaugurated tomorrow. Our country’s democratic principles—embedded in our constitution—still matter after nearly 250 years.

The beginning of a semester at the University brings with it another form of hope. I see it as each semester opens, even during a pandemic. Students are hopeful and eager to resume their studies as they take the next steps in pursuit of a degree. Faculty embrace the opportunity to re‑engage with students as together they pursue new knowledge, undertake scholarly research, and identify solutions to the challenges confronting our communities. Staff energetically return to the tasks critical to a smooth-functioning statewide enterprise.

And don’t forget the hopefulness and excitement created by our successful men’s and women’s basketball teams. The Cougar women recently achieved a program first—a ranking in the top 25 teams nationally—while a very young men’s team has jumped out to a winning record, creating high hopes not only for this season, but the seasons ahead.

The beginning of the semester is also a timely moment to remind ourselves that public universities are laboratories for free speech and that our University cherishes the concept of free speech. Everyone in our community has the right to be heard, to be listened to, and to be treated with dignity and respect. Let’s all do our part to make WSU a community of mutual respect that enables each of us to flourish—both academically and personally.

In closing, I want to leave you with some inspiring, hopeful words from one of America’s greatest poets, Emily Dickinson:

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul—and sings the tunes without the words—and never stops at all.”

May we embrace the hope perching in our souls as we resume the life of the University.

Go Cougs!