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Ronald A. Crutcher column: A letter to students
Commencement and the coronavirus

Ronald A. Crutcher column: A letter to students

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Dear Class of 2020,

I am so sorry.

This pandemic is taking a lot from you and, indeed, from all of us. My heart goes out to you as you strive to adapt to new ways of learning and connecting with one another, while missing the campuses you call home.

Your generation’s formative years have been bookended by crises. So many of you were born in the years just prior to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. You entered your teenage years just about the time of the Great Recession. You have come of age in an era of unprecedented technological advancement, where we are both more — and less — connected to one another than ever before.

Now, we face another cataclysmic moment — an unprecedented public health crisis — that has upended the way we live, work and learn together at an unfathomable pace. I imagine it must feel as if the rest of senior year has been “cancelled,” and I grieve with you and feel your pain — and anger — over the loss of more time together and the chance to say goodbye.

I am so sorry you will miss living and learning alongside your friends and peers, whether it’s solving the world’s problems over brunch in the university’s dining hall, or relaxing together on the quad on a sunny day or studying in the library together — perhaps stealing a laugh from the silence with your friends.

I am so sorry you will miss working side-by-side with your professors, whether it’s discussing a philosophical quandary, or perfecting your intonation or chatting about your future during office hours as you prepare for life beyond our gates.

And I am so sorry we had to postpone commencement, when family, friends, faculty and staff all join together to honor you and cheer you as you stride across the stage triumphantly to receive your diploma. This, above all else, breaks my heart.

For some of you, graduating from college was an expectation. For others, it was a dream. But for all of you, commencement is an important rite of passage you have earned and deserve, symbolizing at once both an end and a new beginning. As I speak to fellow university presidents across the country, please know that we are thinking about how to reunite you, celebrate you and thank you for your understanding, resilience and resolve.

The Latin writer Publilius Syrus once wrote, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” The challenge is to hold your grip firm when the storm comes. Class of 2020, you have unexpectedly found yourself on a tempest-tossed ship, navigating a world in which the rhythms of our lives have been profoundly reshaped. But as you have worked with us to leave campus and adapt to remote instruction, you have steered through the battering waves with remarkable inner strength. You will always be a special class for us, known for your grit and ability to weather difficult circumstances, the exact type of people I want by my side when the storm comes.

Class of 2020, please know we aren’t going anywhere. We will see you and your families again to celebrate your achievements, to toast your friendships, and to thank your faculty and staff mentors.

This is not the end of your story. As a musician, I think of this moment as a fermata — an unexpected pause before the music continues.


Ronald A. Crutcher

Ronald A. Crutcher is president of the University of Richmond. Contact him at:

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