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A note of gratitude

Dear Alumni and Friends,

I wanted to write you before the week is out to thank you for your heartfelt cards, letters, and emails. When Adele and I were laid low by COVID-19, many of you took the time to write us. Your expressions of hope and encouragement—and the many, many ways in which you are meeting the challenges of the pandemic in cities around the world—reminded us every day of how extraordinarily caring the Harvard community is.

Adele and I are doing well. We are regaining our strength. I have even started to run again, although quite slowly and about half my usual distance. I am careful to run routes where I am unlikely to encounter others, and I have a mask I can pull up if I do. Adele and I have also volunteered to participate in a research study at the Ragon Institute where our blood will be drawn so that our antibodies to the virus can be harvested for therapeutic use. We hope that something good can come from our close encounter with COVID-19.

Over the past few weeks, we have all been tested in ways that we could never have anticipated. Lives have been turned upside down as people have been separated from family, friends, and colleagues. Jobs have been lost as the economy has contracted. Weddings and other celebrations have been put on hold, and people have had to say goodbye to loved ones without the benefit of those rituals that comfort the bereaved.

Yet this pandemic has also brought out the best in us. On campus, when we asked most of our students to return home before Spring Break, individuals volunteered to help make travel arrangements, pack and store belongings, and get the work done—not because we asked them to do so, but because they care about our students. When we asked faculty to move their courses online, they did so, with the help of a remarkably talented staff, because they believe in our mission of teaching, even if it means adopting methods that are completely new to them halfway through a semester. These examples are just two of many that demonstrate a kind of selflessness revealed only by crisis, and I have witnessed it more times than I can count over these past four weeks.

While some of us have been working around the clock to ensure the continuity of our mission, others have been addressing the pandemic from the center of the fray. One of our faculty members at MGH worked between her shifts in the hospital to help create a HarvardX course on mechanical ventilation, which at last count is training some 40,000 healthcare workers worldwide. Two of the first vaccines to enter clinical trials have ties to Harvard researchers. Many of you have helped us to identify critically needed personal protective equipment for use in our hospitals. Others have asked how you can support our students, faculty, and staff during this challenging time. If you haven’t already, I hope you will take a moment to learn about the ways people across the University are mustering all of their generosity and ingenuity—their grit and determination—to meet a challenge that binds us together even as it casts us apart. There are terrific things happening at Harvard, and I guarantee that nothing you read today will make you feel prouder to be part of our community.

I wish my report about the University could be entirely positive, but the future will undoubtedly bring incredible turmoil, not the least of which will be economic. Harvard, like every other college and university, will face challenges that will demand not only good stewardship of our resources but also difficult, even painful, decisions. I promise you that we will make these decisions with integrity—and with the preservation of our most important and critical mission of teaching and scholarship always in mind. Based on what I have seen since this pandemic began, I know that our community will come through this moment, and I look forward to updating you on our progress in the months ahead.

All the best,