Some end of the academic year thoughts

The end of any academic year is always a time for reflection, but the end of this year brings much more than that. There has never been a year like this one in the history of Wheaton College, and the past few weeks have certainly provided an opportunity for reflection, celebration, and for looking forward. We have all been through so much over the past 15 months and it appears we may finally have turned a corner and are headed toward brighter, more normal, days ahead.

Careful planning and creative logistics provided us with several opportunities to honor the graduates of the Class of 2021, despite the pandemic restrictions that were still in place. From Senior Week to the Posse Graduation Ceremony and from Lavender Graduation to Honors Convocation, the end of the semester was marked by a robust slate of modified in-person and virtual celebrations that culminated in our 186th Commencement on Saturday, May 22. After a virtual ceremony to kick off the day, more than 400 seniors were able to walk across the stage in-person or virtually to celebrate all they have achieved. It was certainly the most unique of Wheaton graduations given the health guidelines we followed, but one parent wrote to me and described the day as a “magical experience.” You can read about and view all elements of the day’s ceremonies on our Commencement website. Join me in welcoming each of our graduates to the growing and strong network of more than 19,000 Wheaton alumni.

We all realize that the Class of 2020 knows, too, what it is like to experience missing out on celebrations and good-byes. The class leadership has a stated goal of gathering the class for a fitting and joyous celebration here on campus when there are no restrictions in place and when everyone, including family and friends, can come together to really interact with each other. We have been working on the plans for this and there are some exciting things being finalized to achieve those goals. The Class of 2020 truly deserves a one-of-a-kind and significant celebration and the announcement of those plans will be shared very soon.

While most of our students headed off campus as the semester ended, some stayed because they still had some unfinished business as a result of their successes on the track and baseball field. Even with shortened seasons and all kinds of COVID-related restrictions, our Wheaton Lyons were well-represented on the national level. Track standout Margaret Walker competed in the 100-meter dash at the NCAA National Championships and our baseball team won the regional championship and is competing this weekend for the national title in the NCAA DIII World Series. You can learn more about their achievements and follow along in the national tournament on the Athletics website. #LetsGoWheat

With all that everyone has had to endure over the past year, this is also a time for reflecting on how we were able to make it through the year despite all the challenges. We could not have done it without the amazing work of our Return to Campus Task Force, led by Vice Presidents Zack Irish and Meghan Kass. This group has worked tirelessly for over a year to basically recreate the entire campus environment to keep people healthy and safe. But more importantly, we could not have done it without the sacrifice and contributions of every faculty, staff and student member of our community. Like all of us, here at Wheaton we had to live and learn under very different conditions. Yet we adapted and persevered, making it through the entire year with only 88 positive student test results from the almost 80,000 COVID tests that we conducted – one of the lowest rates of any academic institution anywhere. It wasn’t an easy year, but we did it!  The fact that we were able to make these recent celebratory events and successes happen is a testament to the planning, work, resilience and commitment of the entire community. Thank you!

Now we turn the corner and begin to plan for the fall semester and beyond. Our trustees met recently and they, too, celebrated that we are beginning to emerge from the pandemic with a strong foundation for the future. In particular, they are heartened by our continued progress in implementing the Compass curriculum and in developing new academic programs, our success in meeting our recruiting goals for this fall’s entering Class of 2025, and the continued support of alumni and friends that has kept us on track with our fundraising goals. In fact, we are poised to have another historic year in terms of fundraising and in meeting our Wheaton Fund goals. I hope you can help us meet these goals before the June 30 end of our fiscal year.

We remain focused on achieving a fully repopulated campus and a 100% face-to-face student experience, as outlined in previous communication about our fall semester plans. We know we still have a lot of work to do to achieve that goal and we are already totally focused on these efforts. We also know that some parts of the Wheaton global community continue to face the difficult effects of COVID-19, and we send our thoughts and well wishes for health and safety to all. We will continue to provide regular updates throughout the summer as plans and protocols evolve.

What a year it has been. Every member of this community has played a part in helping the college get through this most difficult period of time. I can’t thank you enough for all that you have done for each other and for Wheaton this past academic year and for all that you continue to do for this great community.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Dennis Hanno
Wheaton College