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A Spring of New Beginnings

January 12, 2021

I love the first few weeks of each new year. There is something energizing about the opportunity for something new. And I know we are all ready for something new.

I suspect I wasn't the only one who was grateful when 2020 slipped into the rearview mirror. It was a tough year in so many ways—one marked by sorrow, loss, and disconnection. It almost goes without saying that 2020 was a year that our great-grandchildren will be reading about in history books. They will ask us what it was like to live through a global pandemic, national racial turmoil, and a divisive and contested election. If you are like me, you still have some processing to do before knowing exactly how you will respond.

But when we are ready, what will we say about 2020?

I know that I will want to talk about my admiration for how our Pepperdine community persevered. I will describe how our faculty rose to the occasion of pivoting to online education; how our staff and administration adjusted efficiently and effectively to preserve the jobs of everyone in our community and the financial health of our institution; and how our alumni and friends stood with us and supported us through what felt like a very long winter.

Mostly, however, I will talk about our incredible, brilliant students. I will talk about how heartbreaking it was in March to be abruptly informed that the campus was closing; how jolting it was for students studying abroad to be summoned home; how disappointing it was for our performing artists to lose the chance to inspire us through their traditional spring performances; how devastating it was for our student-athletes to see their promising seasons cut short; how crushing it was for those set to graduate to have the ceremonies postponed; and how distressing it was to be informed that the campus would be legally ordered to remain closed for the entire fall semester also. Far from what we hoped or expected.

But I will also talk about how resilient our students were in the face of all this loss and dislocation; how student clubs, fraternities, and sororities continued to meet via Zoom and add to their membership rolls; how student government leaders were elected and served with distinction; how important learning continued in a virtual environment; how students found ways to worship together and to encourage one another; and how students grew more than they thought was possible by overcoming of such significant obstacles.

I am even more confident, though, that whatever any of us says in the future about the long winter called 2020, it will not be complete without a full recitation of what an incredible comeback year we had in 2021—the dawning of the spring of new beginnings.

I know I will describe the outbreak of bear hugs and echoing laughter when our campus was reunited in 2021. I will reflect about how a new sense of belonging emerged in our community, borne of a deep realization that we are all children of God, and an unrelenting conviction that the power of God's love pouring out through us onto one another is greater than we had even imagined. I will hardly be able to contain the joy that will come from describing how students returned to their residence halls, performance venues, and athletic arenas; how professors teared up as the students returned to their classrooms and offices; and how our community worshiped together the God who sustained us throughout the long winter.

I have no doubt that Pepperdine's greatest days are ahead of us.

Over these past few days as I have been completing my COVID-induced, CDC-mandated quarantine from my office in the Brock House, I have seen the campus show signs of the dawning of this spring of new beginnings. I have seen through my office window our women's and men's tennis teams preparing for their first tournament next weekend, and our women's soccer team preparing for its first match next month. I have seen the groundskeepers trimming the foliage in anticipation of the governmental order allowing us to open our campus again. I have also seen a notification from L.A. County previewing the process for the first vaccinations of Pepperdine's medical personnel.

We are entering the final stretch of this long winter of separation. We will be together soon. Spring is coming.

As you know, a new chapter is unfolding in our country as well. A monumental public/private partnership led to the historic development of a safe and effective COVID vaccine in record time. In the coming few months, hundreds of millions in this country, and billions around the world, will benefit from this ingenuity. We will be working closely with local health officials to ensure that our community gets access to this vaccine at the earliest appropriate moment. And despite last week's appalling assault on our Capitol building (and the rule of law), Congress ratified the results of our national elections and a new president will be inaugurated next week.

Part of the new chapter at Pepperdine is our vision to build an uncommon community of belonging on all of our campuses and to be a national presence for respectful and meaningful discourse in our country. Just this morning, our Steering Team engaged in a faith-infused, cultural intelligence education workshop to help equip us to lead a diverse university and enhance the community of belonging we all seek. And later this week, the Executive Committee of our Board of Regents is meeting with a national expert on building a culture of such discourse.

Finally, I encourage each of you to join us this evening for the first installment of the President's Speaker Series featuring Dr. Cornel West and Dr. Robert George. These renowned professors and public intellectuals will model for us what it looks like for people of good will with divergent political views to have important dialogue about difficult issues and to do so with dignity, honor, and respect. This is the Pepperdine way, and we are ready to serve as a model for the country.

Welcome to the spring of new beginnings at Pepperdine.