Thinking Out Loud: To reflect and renew

What a Difference a Year Makes

To the Case Western Reserve University Community:

Like all of us, I am filled with hope for 2021 and eager to enter safer, less chaotic days. However, as our lives calm down for the holidays and we near the end of 2020, this is also a time to look back, reflect, and renew. 

When we recognize the profound experiences we had, the lessons we learned, and the ways in which we grew, we can move forward with a clearer sense of self and renewed purpose. The CWRU leadership team just went through this process on the institutional level while assessing the university’s response to the pandemic over the last two semesters. The realizations and insights we are taking away from this year will inform every decision we make in 2021 and beyond. 

On a personal level, 2020 has also been a formative year for me and I suspect others. For what it is worth, here are my personal reflections on major themes and takeaways from 2020:

  • Cherishing every day. This past year taught me to appreciate every day—and tackle life one day at a time—because you never know what tomorrow will bring. 
  • Finding purpose. I gained an even greater appreciation for having a purpose in life. In my particular case, assuming the role of interim president of CWRU during a challenging time in the history of the university has given me new meaning and motivation. Having the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others is perhaps the greatest privilege we all have.
  • Embracing hope. I learned, once again, that hope makes the hardship of today easier to cope with. I am hopeful that the newly approved vaccines are the beginning of the end of COVID-19. Just as important, I hope the lessons learned from COVID-19 will mitigate any possible future pandemic outbreaks and lead to personal and societal silver linings. Envisioning a better tomorrow has given me strength during this surreal year.
  • Letting go. On a very personal note, after losing my wife and best friend of 30 years this time last year, I learned that it is possible to go on with your life while always honoring and truly loving those you lost. The grief continues to ebb and flow, but the sadness is gradually replaced by the wonderful memories of years past and the desire to continue to live a meaningful life and pursue happiness.  

Most of all, I was powerfully reminded this year that living is a gift. Most of my adult life, I have been seeking to show my appreciation for this gift by giving back and leaving this world a little better than I found it. In fact, I have been known for telling students, “No one will ever remember you for what you did for yourself; they will only remember you for what you did for others.” I still believe that we have an obligation to use our gift of being alive in this world to make a difference for others. However, this past year has made me realize how important it is to also take care of ourselves. I also hope we are all doing this for those we love and others in need.

I wish you all restful holidays and a happy, purposeful, and healthy new year!  

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