To: W&L Students, Faculty and Staff
From: President Will Dudley
Date: May 31, 2020

The days after graduation normally allow us to exhale, relax, and transition to the different rhythms and projects of summer. There is nothing normal about this year. We are living in the midst of a global pandemic that has claimed more than 100,000 American lives. Several months ago we sent our students home and closed our campus, and since then we have been living and working in social isolation, deprived of the relationships and interactions that give us energy, meaning, and joy. And now our country is literally up in arms and in flames, outraged by the persistence of racism and the perpetration of violent misconduct by some of the very people who are sworn to serve and protect us all.

Confidence in important institutions is low. Patience is worn thin. Frustration, disappointment, sadness, and anger are understandably high. I share those feelings. My sympathy is with everyone who is upset, hurt, scared, and exhausted. I am especially mindful of the African-American members of our community, who have my complete support and solidarity. Tragedies such as the death of George Floyd remind us of our shared humanity but distinctive cultural histories and experiences. This is a terrible moment in our country.

It is also a moment that reminds us of the importance of what we do. Education is the best antidote to prejudice and discrimination. We bring young people from all backgrounds together, to live and learn with each other. Students encounter new perspectives, broaden their horizons, and acquire the habit of challenging their own assumptions. They learn to trust and befriend people who are different from themselves. In the process, they fulfill our mission, which is to prepare our graduates for responsible leadership, service to others, and engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society. The world needs now, more than ever, young people like those we educate at W&L.

Our commitment to diversity is steadfast, and the importance of that commitment is underscored by the present moment. The diversity of the United States is one of its greatest strengths, but equal treatment and opportunity for all remain elusive. W&L can be part of the solution. Our strategic plan prioritizes increasing the racial and socioeconomic diversity of our community, and we are making notable progress. We are also expressly committed to creating the conditions in which every member of our community can thrive, by eliminating financial barriers to full participation in curricular and extra-curricular programs, and by actively seeking to include and engage all students, faculty, and staff in the life of the university.

Plenty of work remains to be done. W&L aspires to be a national model for liberal arts education in the 21st century. We must attract and support the most talented and determined students and teachers from all demographic groups. Our nurturing of these individuals will not only benefit them personally, but also enhance their ability to contribute to a world that sorely needs them.

The current state of our country is deeply discouraging. It poses difficult challenges that can be met only if each of us resolves to make a difference. I ask you to join me in making a difference here at W&L. I take heart in our people and our mission. Residential liberal arts education is an extraordinarily powerful thing, to which our devotion will not waver. Even in this period of pandemic, protest, and economic upheaval, we are focused on providing the best education we possibly can, for the good of present and rising generations. I thank every one of you for your contributions to that effort.