Thinking Out Loud: Focus on the light

To the Case Western Reserve University Community:

Provost Vinson and I recently finished a round of Zoom meetings with the schools that make up this wonderful institution. The purpose of the meetings was to provide a university update, answer questions, and ask about the possible silver linings born out of the pandemic. 

What I saw and heard this time around was quite different than what I experienced when we last met with each of the schools in the fall. This time I felt a sense of hope and palpable optimism about the near future in almost every conversation—even though we are still coping with the impacts of the pandemic. Clearly, people on our campus are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I hope all of you reading this message feel the same way.

What I found most comforting is that members of our community are encouraged not only by the increasingly realistic possibility that the pandemic will be under control soon but also by their vision for a “better normal.” I have shared with you all before that I don’t believe that going back to the way things were before the pandemic—personally or professionally—is an option, and that it is our obligation to create silver linings. It has become quite clear to me in recent weeks that many of you share this perspective and are eager to translate everything we experienced and learned this past year into a more purposeful, resilient, just, and mindful post-pandemic future.  

I have made two promises to myself: 

  1. I will never forget the unfathomable hardship and sorrow the pandemic has brought to so many. 
  2. I will spend the rest of my life honoring the knowledge and perspective I gained during this time by using it in positive ways for myself and others.  

For me personally, this means I will put more effort into the relationships that sustained me over the past year. I want to spend more time with those I love most and cherish my relationships with members of my extended family and old friends, many of whom I grew even closer to during the pandemic (thank you, Zoom!). I will reflect on and write about my experience being a university president at the time of Hurricane Katrina and COVID-19 to share what I learned in the hope that it will be useful to others dealing with crises. I will have a greater appreciation for the things I took for granted before COVID-19, like enjoying a carefree meal with friends and family, seeing a Broadway show, or exchanging a friendly smile—that will no longer be covered by a mask—with a stranger on the sidewalk. I will also rethink the content and delivery method for the course on leadership that I teach every spring. I believe a combination of in-person and remote learning could enhance the student experience. 

Finally, I will keep the families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 in my heart and keep praying for them; may they find peace and their memories be a blessing. And I will always be grateful to and in awe of those who cared for the ones who suffered or needed help during the pandemic. They are true heroes. 

In March of last year, our lives were disrupted in unimaginable ways, and many in our country and across the world will be dealing with the ripple effects of human loss, illness, trauma, and financial hardship for years to come. As we begin to think more concretely about an end of the pandemic, let us never forget the lasting tragic impact and ongoing challenges (we are not there yet!). However, it is equally important that we make room for the light in our lives and envision a “better normal.”  

Keep thinking, focus on the light, and take care,

Cursive signature that reads "Scott" for Case Western Reserve Interim President Scott Cowen




Scott Cowen
Interim President