As thousands of proud family members and friends stood and applauded the more than 6,400 Syracuse University students who had their degrees conferred inside the JMA Wireless Dome for this year’s Commencement ceremony, their thoughts were on celebrating this momentous…
Chancellor Kent Syverud Delivers 2021 Winter Message to the University Community
Chancellor Kent Syverud shared his 2021 Winter Message to the University Community in a virtual message, recorded in the K.G. Tan Auditorium in the National Veterans Resource Center at the Daniel and Gayle D’Aniello Building at Syracuse University.
Below is the text of his remarks.
Greetings from the National Veterans Resource Center at the Daniel and Gayle D’Aniello Building at Syracuse University. I’m coming to you from the K.G. Tan Auditorium. It is a spectacular space. It’s empty today, but soon pandemic conditions permitting it will host all kinds of events. Memories and history will be made here. Our ROTC commissionings, convocations will be held here. Lectures and seminars will be delivered here. Leaders from around the world will come together here. I can’t wait for you all to experience this.
I usually deliver a winter message in a room together with many of you, the pandemic is stopping us from doing that today but all of us who are orange, we’ve gotten pretty good at finding new ways of doing things. We improvise and we get it done as we will once again this semester.
Our spring semester has officially begun at Syracuse University. Your university is strong today, we are poised for an even stronger tomorrow. I know this because of the way our community has come together over the last year. I know this because of the unstoppable orange spirit of our community. And I know this because of the opportunities that lie before us and our willingness to act on them boldly. I am grateful like so many of you that we are able to welcome the vast majority of our community back to this campus for the spring semester. It has been a long road to get here. It is the determination of so many that is making this semester possible. Our faculty, our staff have worked hard to ensure that no matter where you are in the world, you can be part of the Syracuse University family. I appreciate all of you. We are here today because of you and because of your tireless efforts. Thank you.
I am also grateful for what we, as a university, were able to accomplish this past fall semester. I believe it was the hardest semester our university has faced in our lifetime. I think historians will agree. Our community has surely faced difficult times before, Pan Am 103, the height of the Vietnam War and other challenges. But there was more collective stress on our entire university this past summer and fall than any other semester in our memory. As a community, we rose to the occasion, we are ready to do it again and show the world how it is done.
The global pandemic has disrupted so much in our lives yet Syracuse University, students, faculty, staff, alumni, fans and friends have met every challenge and we have done it as one orange community. Being orange is not something are given or born with, it’s something you earn. Today, I want to share some stories of how our orange community has displayed grit and grace and greatness. These qualities will shape how we face the world this semester and these qualities will continue to shape our university long into the future. Grit, grace and greatness, I see these qualities every day in our people.
Start with grit. Grit is courage in the face of challenges, it is persistence in the face of obstacles and setbacks, it is demonstrating resilience, fortitude, and perseverance in the most difficult of times. This pandemic has tested our grit in extraordinary ways. So many things are harder than before. We have experienced losses of jobs, of experiences, of loved ones. We have missed milestones, we’ve missed celebrations. We are distanced from friends and family. Grit pushes back on these challenges in different ways, it is what we do every day that has now become routine. Getting tested, social distancing, washing our hands, wearing our masks. It is all of the extra work we do to offer classes in person, online and sometimes both at the same time. It is rethinking how we use spaces for labs and rehearsals and activities and athletics. It is our alumni, donors and friends who have stepped up to support the University and our students during challenging economic times, whether through Syracuse Responds or giving to scholarships. These ways of being part of the Syracuse University community are essential, especially now.
Grit reveals itself when we create ways to do things we have never done before. Back in October, we needed to pivot some of our public health protocols to keep our community safe. And we needed people to help us make this pivot happen. Zach Baxter, a senior and a member of our ROTC Corps asked what he could do to help. He had volunteered earlier in the semester with the public health team. Zach reached out to Program Manager Pruthvi Kilaru, in our department of public health. Within 24 hours, Zach and his fellow ROTC cadets were ready to train in the safe collection, registration and pooling of COVID testing samples. We needed to move quickly here, we needed the people to make it happen, Zach and his fellow cadets stepped up to keep our community safe.
Grit is also Tiana Mangakahia. Tiana is a member of our women’s basketball team. She returned to the court this year, after a courageous battle with cancer. She hadn’t played in an intercollegiate game for more than 600 days when she stepped back on the court in November. That night she scored 16 points, had seven rebounds, four steals and three assists. Grit got her there, just like grit got her through her cancer treatment, just like grit is keeping her and all our student athletes motivated and focused through another season that is regularly disrupted by the pandemic.
Grit may be what we do, but grace is how we do it. When someone challenges our thinking or says something that strikes us at first as wrong, grace is extending the patience to have a conversation. Grace opens our hearts and minds to make sure we understand someone else’s point of view. Grace is sometimes as simple as giving our fellow classmate or colleague the benefit of the doubt. Now more than ever, grace is going out of our way to help someone else. We saw grace in how so many in our orange community came together around a contentious national election to discuss the hard issues and respecting those with whom they disagreed. We also saw grace demonstrated by our work study students and our graduate students in the Setnor School of Music. they worked through complex schedules and social distancing guidelines so that classes could still take place and rehearsals could still be held.
Grace is also in people like Nel Gaudé, a master’s student in food studies saw needs in our community and decided to help working with the Syracuse Onondaga Food Systems Alliance. Nel developed a Food Policy Council to organize and connect people with emergency food. So many are suffering right now, and Nel is finding ways to meet the needs of underrepresented communities in Syracuse. Professor Evan Weissman, who passed away last semester, connected Nel with these community groups. Together, they are continuing to practice what Professor Weissman taught us about food security and social justice.
I am certain that this semester will continue to test our grace. While the vaccine has arrived, we will need to continue to exercise diligence and patience. Even now the number of individuals who are eligible is far higher than the number of vaccine doses that are available. We need everyone to get tested more frequently. It may disrupt your day, but it is simple, selfless and shows you care about those around you. All you have to do is show up at the stadium and deposit your saliva. This small act of grace could help protect us, our friends, our campus, and our neighbors from the virus. With continued grit and grace we will get through this semester, but more than that, we will come out of this coming semester thriving and aiming for greatness. Greatness is not what we say, but what we do and we achieve. It is how we make an impact on the world around us. Even during this unusual and challenging year Syracuse University alumni, faculty, staff, and students are changing the world in distinctive and amazing ways.
A Syracuse University law graduate is in the White House, I am proud of that. We can all be proud that all of our Syracuse University schools and colleges produce individuals who rise to the highest levels. We should take pride knowing that leaders and luminaries continue to build their foundation for greatness here at Syracuse University. Greatness is how our work speaks to and shapes the world. Just last week our spectacular artist in residence Carrie Mae Weems was the focus of a virtual forum of experts held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The museum is currently exhibiting her work entitled “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried.” Her work tells stories of racism and social injustice and gives voice to those who had none.
Greatness also comes when you aim high and ask what if. Zhen Ma, our faculty member in biomedical and chemical engineering worked with a new nano-material approach when he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California. He asked, what if we could use this system to understand how the heart forms in a human embryo. That question has now led to more than $2.7 million in competitive grant funding to his lab here at Syracuse. And it has resulted in an ethical way to test whether commonly prescribed drugs affect fetal heart development.
We have so many opportunities as a university and as individuals to ask, what if, and what’s next. The answers to these questions will undoubtedly lead to greatness. We’re looking for leadership that asks these tough questions too. Leadership that looks beyond the status quo. We are searching for the next senior vice president for the student experience. This will be someone who confronts the tough questions, the highest hurdles with excitement and with energy and with our students. This new leader will be in place by summer and this new leader will have a tremendous foundation to build upon.
Over the last year, we have completed the first phase of the Stadium Project. And this semester the transformed Schine Student Center is open once again. We did these ambitious projects on time and on budget thanks to a lot of hard work by so many on our campus. We have achieved what our students asked for and what we need now, spaces tailored to students and spaces where we can stay socially distant but together. The stadium and the re-imagined Schine Student Center are spectacular. But as we have seen with the Barnes Center at The Arch, it’s what happens in these spaces that makes an impact. To all our students please enjoy these new facilities, it is how you use them and what you do inside them that will bring greatness to your student experience here
We also need to look for greatness as we shape our culture and our community. Our country continues its reckoning with anti-black racism, we are experiencing a new wave of antisemitism. When members of our community suffer, it is on all of us to respond. This semester we will kick off a university-wide strategic plan for inclusion, diversity, equity, and access. We have the opportunity to make real and lasting changes to how our community addresses discrimination of any kind. We have the opportunity to make our campus more accessible for people with disabilities. We have the opportunity to build an even stronger culture of respect and to deliver an equitable experience for all. This work directly impacts how individuals experience Syracuse University. This work will demand a lot from all of us. It will follow extensive and comprehensive reviews of our current infrastructure. Soon, our community will receive the results of these reviews, this includes a review of our department of public safety led by former US Attorney General Loretta Lynch. It includes the results of the campus climate survey, where we heard from our community and it will include the review conducted by the board of trustees special committee on university climate, diversity and inclusion.
This work will require open minds and open hearts. It will require all of us to acknowledge where we’ve been and where we want to go. And it will require grit and grace to overcome where we’ve fallen short in the past, this work will be a commitment to greatness recognizing we can be better and we will be better. Thinking in terms of greatness is also necessary as we search for our next provost and chief academic officer. This leader will oversee important initiatives in faculty recruitment and retention in development and in academic excellence. We need to look for greatness as we seek to hire new and diverse faculty. We have identified 10 research clusters where we think Syracuse University can be distinctive. Now is the time to invest in the people who will make this happen. Now is the time to invest in the academic and research facilities where this will happen. And now is the time to invest in the collaborations and partnerships that will shape how this happens. Cutting edge fields like quantum information, science, bio inspired materials and living systems and autonomous systems policy are all asking what’s next for our society.
Grit, grace and greatness, let’s manifest all three this semester at Syracuse University. I asked that we all approach the challenges and opportunities we will face together this semester with grit. Let’s treat each other in our community, even when we don’t see eye to eye with grace. Finally, let’s find the potential for greatness in ourselves, in others and in our university as we strive for excellence. We know what orange can do this semester let’s show the world how we do it. Thank you.