August 26, 2020
How many times this year have you read or heard the word unprecedented?
If you answered “too many times to count,” you’re not alone. So much of 2020 has been defined by the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the unexpected, and yes, the unprecedented. But I want to take a moment today — the first day of classes for this fall semester — to talk about what is precedented at The University of Texas: incredible learning opportunities, life-changing teaching and a sense of spirit and common purpose unlike any other.
Some of you are here right now, living in Austin and learning on or near the Forty Acres. Others are in your hometowns or elsewhere, studying remotely. All of you are part of Longhorn Nation. That’s because your drive, talent, creativity and life experiences have set you apart. You are students at the best university in Texas, which is one of the very best public research institutions in the world. That is no small achievement. But, to get the most out of your years at UT, you need to dig a little bit deeper, search a little harder and push yourselves to grow.
That means getting involved. Take classes that lead you outside of your comfort zones; meet people who are different from you and come from places you’ve never been; join clubs and organizations that serve society; find a mind-expanding book or work of art in our libraries and collections; allow yourself the freedom to try something new! This university has so much to offer, but if you simply follow your degree program and skim the surface, you will miss out on the depth and richness that permeates our entire campus.
Our faculty and staff have worked diligently throughout the summer to provide both virtual and in-person learning experiences for you that are of the very highest quality. COVID-19 has transformed the way we do things, but the mission of our university and what we expect of you as students have not changed in the slightest. So, get ready to be challenged in your coursework and learn, discover and produce because that’s why you’re here. Wearing a face mask, social distancing, learning online — none of these things alters the fundamental components of your education.
For those of you studying here in Austin, you have an extra responsibility this semester — to help keep our community safe and limit the spread of COVID-19. Please wear your masks. Please social distance. Please get tested if asked or if exhibiting symptoms. Please use good judgment when spending time with friends. Please be compassionate and think about the impact your actions may have on those most vulnerable among us.
We all need to show grace this semester. We need to be patient, kind, open-minded and willing to help others and adapt if changes come. That’s how we’ll thrive, as a community, in the strange days that lie ahead.
That’s it from me. Enjoy this first day and find something new in it — something that will help you learn, contribute and change the world.