In early March 2020, I exited a flight to Cali, Colombia, in order to spend a few days with a team of Notre Dame MBAs (working with our partner PASO Colombia through the Meyer Business on the Frontlines Program) — only to be met by airport personnel in hazmat suits armed with digital thermometers.
Like the rest of the world, I had been following the reports of the growing menace of the COVID-19 pandemic. But in that moment, I felt that I had landed in a new reality: It was my first small glimpse of how the pandemic would come to change life as we knew it.
Things moved quickly after I returned to campus. We made the decision to bring all students traveling abroad during spring break back early. Later that week, the University made the dramatic decision to ask students to not come back to campus after spring break. The remainder of the semester would be online only.
For everyone, the pandemic caused so many disruptions, challenges and sadness. At Notre Dame, we focused on safeguarding the health and wellness of our students, faculty and staff, while recognizing that in-person engagement is an integral part of our culture and learning environment. We had to reinvent the way we work at a time when the larger needs of our families, friends and communities stretched us.
As I reflect on this past year, I am struck by the fact that through all of the uncertainty and stress, the dedication of our faculty, staff, students, alumni and others was unwavering and inspiring. Notre Dame was the first university to declare its plans to bring students back to campus for fall 2020. I am proud of Fr. John’s leadership and how we as a University stepped up and delivered amidst great adversity and uncertainty.
We remained intensely committed to our mission to educate the whole person, which, for us, means to prioritize teaching in-person. It’s important as a community that we have meals together, play sports together, cheer the Fighting Irish together, worship God together and even mourn together. By pulling together, we were able to conduct more than 95% of our classes in person.
I’m also proud of what we have achieved during the pandemic despite all of the disruption and all of the challenges (while acknowledging that not everything went perfectly). You’ll find many of these achievements highlighted in the Chronicle section and throughout the magazine. I am grateful to our faculty, staff, students and alumni for their hard work and commitment, and for their patience and grace. Our community is stronger in many ways for negotiating the many challenges together.
This year marks a significant College milestone — our 100th anniversary. As we celebrate our history and legacy over the next year, we also keep our eyes on the future and what never changes: our joint commitment to our Catholic mission to educate business leaders who contribute to human flourishing, cooperate in solidarity and compete through growing toward the best version of themselves with the help of God and others. Our mission inspires, endures and continually renews our hope, whatever the next year might bring.
In Notre Dame,
Martin J. Gillen Dean