Dear Howard University Students,
Since the coronavirus pandemic took hold of our country in March 2020, we have witnessed immense suffering, particularly in the Black community. In many ways, the world we now inhabit is poorer and more impoverished after such devastation. But in other ways, it is even stronger than it was before this crisis. While we should always remember the tremendous loss that took place, we must also recognize that the pandemic was not a lost year, but a generative one – for Howard, for America and for our entire global civilization.
As the president of Howard, I have witnessed the many faces of struggle. Many of our students already come from limited means and under-resourced communities, and the pandemic exacerbated their present-day challenges at a time when they most needed to focus on their futures. Many of our students confronted food and housing insecurity. They grappled with poor internet connections or insufficient technological devices. They dealt with devastating personal losses among their family and friends and communities.
Despite the enormity of the challenges we faced, the pandemic also coincided with one of the most prosperous eras in Howard’s illustrious institutional history. We set new records in fundraising and enrollment. We brought in more research dollars and won more research grants than we ever have before. We achieved our highest-ever rankings in the U.S. News & World Report. We served our community by providing COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. And we watched as one of our own, Kamala Harris, shattered multiple glass ceilings as she became the vice president of the United States.
We triumphed over incredibly trying circumstances in order to fulfill our mission and uphold our core values. In a new, online environment, our faculty continued to provide an elite education as our students continued to pursue theirs. Our duty and devotion to educate and enlighten ourselves and others didn’t stop just because we encountered adversity. On the contrary, the pandemic only served to reinforce our resolve.
Throughout this crisis, Howard has been a beacon in the night, shining a light on the wrongs perpetrated upon the Black community and illuminating how those wrongs could be made right. It was Howard University that put the narrative of inequity and injustice at the forefront of our national consciousness. It was Howard University that uncovered the data points and the stories and the perspectives that gave wings to that narrative, protecting it from those who tried to dismiss it or ignore it or claim that it belonged to the past but not the present. And it was Howard University that insisted that only a full reckoning of our tragic past and our flawed present would lead us to a promising and more prosperous future.
To persevere under the conditions that our students experienced necessitates more than personal will and ambition – it requires a mission. As we begin a new year at Howard, I hope that your education will awaken within you a purpose that will carry you forward in life. Higher education is certainly an opportunity for us to better ourselves and to plan for our futures. But most importantly, it is a time where we can begin to hear our personal calling, when we can begin to discern an answer to one of life’s most important questions: What is the difference that I am supposed to make in the world?
As the African proverb says, “However long the night, the dawn will break.” Despite the length and devastation of the pandemic, we are already moving past it and building something better in its wake. When the morning sun casts down its light, there will be a new world that has taken its place, one that you, Howard students, will have created.
My very best wishes to all of you for an enlightening year. May you all be healthy and safe.
Excellence in Truth and Service,
Wayne A. I. Frederick
Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery