Thinking Out Loud: Finding your path

To the Case Western Reserve University Community:

Now that 2020 is officially in the rearview mirror and we have had a chance to settle into 2021, I’m finding myself increasingly focused on the future. I suspect many of you, too, have started making plans again. While we have to stay vigilant and continue to protect ourselves and others in the coming months, the vaccine rollout is promising an end to the pandemic and shifting our attention to what’s ahead. 

Some of you will be graduating in a few months; others will be taking on new responsibilities at work, are retiring soon, or are just generally trying to figure out your path forward. I also suspect that our country and higher education will be doing soul searching about the future, given recent events and the necessity for change. Personally, I will be handing off the baton to incoming CWRU President Eric Kaler this summer to begin yet another chapter in my life.

No matter where each of us is in life, a new year—especially this year—brings the possibility for change, new opportunities, and questions about where we see ourselves in this world and where we want to go next. 

Students often ask me: “When did you know you wanted to be a university president?” Well, I never set out to be a higher education leader. In many ways, my destiny found me. That doesn’t mean, though, that I didn’t do my part. 

My path evolved by following my various passions; saying yes to opportunities that pushed me out of my comfort zone; following my moral compass and learning to stand up for what is right; confronting conflict and adversity; and, most importantly, growing and getting to know myself with every new experience and challenge. Early on, I realized that I’m drawn to high-stakes situations, hairy problems, crises, social progress and innovation. In other words, my career has not been an accident.

One of the most incredible parts of my job is to witness the journeys of many different people. Students, staff and faculty have surprised, inspired and impressed me countless times with their decisions and accomplishments. There is nothing more rewarding than reuniting with former students and learning that they realized their potential beyond what they ever expected, or working with people over many years and seeing them come into their own. One of my closest colleagues over the past 10 years came to New Orleans from Germany in her mid-20s. During her job interview at the President’s Office at Tulane University back in 2011, she struggled to respond to my question about where she saw herself in five years. She has since become my writing partner, an adjunct lecturer, an advocate against hate, a nonprofit founder, and editor of her own magazine, all while raising a beautiful family. 

Figuring out who you are and forging your path is a process. In our ongoing pursuit of self-fulfillment and positive impact, we constantly sharpen our belief system and actively claim our place. It takes effort, bravery, self-reflection, honesty and intention to be everything we can be. How lucky we are to find ourselves together on this lifelong journey at Case Western Reserve in the year 2021. Remember: Anything is possible if you are open to change and willing to work hard.

Keep thinking, take care and embrace the journey,

Signature of Case Western Reserve University Interim President Scott Cowen that reads "Scott" in cursive
Scott Cowen
Interim President