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A New Semester

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,
Last week, Adele and I helped first-year students move into the Yard, and it felt as if our campus had finally come back to life. Almost everyone we spoke with—students, parents, and families, as well as faculty and staff—expressed hope for the year ahead but also a bit of anxiety over what the future will bring. As I returned to my office in Massachusetts Hall, I reflected on how dramatically the world has changed since the building was completed in 1720. It was a beautiful reminder that our University has fulfilled its mission through change and through storm, as “Fair Harvard” reminds us, and that this academic year will be no different. We have weathered together a relentless pandemic over the last eighteen months, and I know we will find strength and support in one another as we rise to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
My confidence in us is based on experience. I have watched with pride as you have worked seemingly without end to help humanity since the earliest days of this crisis. Some of you have been working on the frontlines and saving lives in the ever-shifting landscapes of medicine and science. Some of you have been examining how people and communities have responded to the disease, devising ways for learning and working to continue despite disruption, or imagining what the future might look like after all of this is in our rearview mirror. Some of you have been contributing to efforts to speed vaccines—two of them, Johnson and Johnson, and Moderna, with origins in Harvard labs—into the arms of more people around the world. And many of you have been working to address the profound inequities—racial, economic, and social—that have been laid bare by this pandemic.
Throughout all of these many challenges, you have worked hard to preserve our core academic mission of teaching and scholarship. You have made it possible for our campus to remain open, for our resources to be accessible, and for work across the University to continue with few interruptions. Enumerating what you have done to strengthen and protect our community is impossible. What is possible, however, is to salute your resilience and your devotion to the University and, more important, to one another. It would have been easy—and, I admit, tempting—to despair when uncertainty made imagining the next day or week or month difficult, but you persevered, finding ways to move forward together despite profound changes in your own lives. Thank you for being a constant example of what grit and determination look like in action.
As we begin a new semester—some of us on campus and some of us working remotely—I hope that we find time to reconnect. Our bonds of appreciation and affection make learning and working together meaningful, and they infuse our interactions with joy and purpose. I consider myself very fortunate to be a member of this community, and I look forward, as always, to the day when all of us can be together again.
With gratitude,