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Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

I have thought a lot over the past few weeks about what words of welcome I might offer you as we begin an academic year in an age of upheaval. What can one write at a moment such as this?

Over the past six months, I have come to know the Harvard community—the people of Harvard—more deeply than I ever thought possible. When Adele and I were sick with COVID, you shared with us not only welcome words of comfort but also bracing accounts of your own struggles with the pandemic. After George Floyd was killed and in the midst of stunning protests, you told powerful and personal stories about the experience of being Black in America. You called on Harvard to fight racism and denounce white supremacy—important work that has only grown in urgency since the shooting of Jacob Blake. You also sought justice for international students not just from Harvard but from colleges and universities across the country, and you found joy—and relief—in the University’s victory over an unlawful directive. All the while, you were trying to make sense of everything as you navigated life as teachers and learners, co-workers and colleagues, and parents and caregivers.

I think our isolation has helped us to see one another more clearly and completely, and to appreciate our community in new ways. We each long to return to a normal life, one that allows us to share time with friends and family, and to greet new acquaintances without fear. I wish I knew how much longer we will be living under this cloud, but I do know that I am cheered by the willingness of everyone at Harvard to do what is necessary to sustain our important work of teaching, scholarship, and service. To our faculty and staff who have worked so tirelessly and selflessly to prepare for the start of this academic year, thank you.  To our scholars who have dedicated themselves to understanding, diagnosing, treating, and preventing this disease and everything that it has wrought, thank you—we are all in your debt. To our students who have met extraordinary challenges with a unique combination of grit, determination, and good cheer, thank you. And, finally, to the families and loved ones who have demonstrated tremendous patience and understanding in the most unusual and trying of circumstances, thank you. Thank you all for hanging in there.

Now, we begin a semester unlike any other. What we do will be important, but how we do it will matter even more. When we get it right, we will celebrate. When we get it wrong, we will commiserate—and try again. The truth is that none of us knows what lies ahead, but we face this uncertainty together. I look forward to the day when we have all of this in our rearview mirror so I can see you again in person. Until that day comes, please take care of yourselves, your families, and each other.

All the best,