Good afternoon. I wanted to take some time to visit with our seniors and your families. I hope you are well and safe. Just a short time ago you were enjoying your final semester, looking forward to your last academic travel, enjoying time with friends and classmates, and preparing for commencement and the next chapter of your lives. COVID-19 has given us all a new reality. Our lives have changed significantly. Many students have left campus to finish the semester; campus business is being conducted at scores of home offices; and we are all glued to the most recent update of a virus that is dictating our lives. Social distancing is our new lifestyle at a time of crisis, when the thing we need to do most is to hug and find a way to reassure each other.

This is an uncertain and unnerving time. It’s hard at moments to push off the anxiety we feel for loved ones, for coworkers, our students, and communities. We’re all learning how to adapt and live through these days that seem almost surreal. We all feel a sense of loss over special events that have been canceled, whether commencements, vacations, family get-togethers, sporting events, travel plans…you name it.

We are now at a place where we have had to make some decisions about commencement and future activities. Thank you all for your valued input on the Moodle Forum; we have taken your considerations into account in making this decision. It deeply saddens me to tell you that we will have to POSTPONE commencement, at least the grand commencement that we are used to, wearing academic regalia, marching to sounds of Pomp and Circumstance, listening to words of wisdom (sometimes interesting, sometimes not) from the graduation speakers, and celebrating together after the diplomas are handed out.  

But I want to be clear that we are POSTPONING, not canceling. The grand ceremony, the big one with pomp and circumstance and your families cheering you on, will be postponed until May 2021. It gives me great pleasure to invite you to what will be one of our biggest graduation ceremonies where we will honor your class, the Class of 2020, alongside the Class of 2021. And right after that we will follow with the 50th alumni reunion, which has also been postponed. I hope you and your loved ones will be able to join us next May.

But what about this May? We also need to celebrate your accomplishment now, but in a safe way. We need to do something positive, something that celebrates you, something that celebrates Franklin. I am proposing that we have a virtual celebration, that we use technology to do something smaller but no less important, something that lets all graduating seniors participate, no matter where they may be. I would also like to celebrate your academic accomplishments, to brag about what you have done, by sharing e-Portfolios, e-Posters, or something of the kind. I will work with campus leadership in the next few weeks to come up with a detailed plan, but I would love to have your ideas as well. We will create a new discussion topic in the Commencement Poll Moodle site. Let’s be innovative in the way that we do this. The fact that we are small gives us an advantage, so let’s use it, and let’s celebrate our Franklin values. We ARE a family. We do hang together. We CARE about each other. We KNOW and celebrate each other.

So… we are going to have a graduation “speaker” this May. He will have to wait until next year to officially receive the honorary degree that we are going award him, but we will stream a message, and knowing that person well, Ambassador Pio Wennubst, it will be a timely and interesting message. There will be a valedictorian address, and you the senior class, will of course be able to vote on who that person is going to be, as you always do. We will open all of this up to your families and friends as well, virtually of course, and we will record it for posterity.

I want you to know that all you have accomplished is in no way diminished by our inability to celebrate together physically. I want you to be proud of how you have grown at Franklin. I am so proud of your achievements, as proud as any member of your family. What you have learned, the experiences that have changed you, and the friendships you’ve formed, will be with you your entire life.

Stay connected. We hope all of our community will stay connected throughout this crisis – there is great strength in knowing you are not alone even on days when it feels that way. In a time of social distancing we are fortunate to live at a time when technology enables us to be connected. As you are adjusting to distance learning, share photos of your home study spaces, stories of what you are experiencing in these strange days, wear some Franklin swag, reach out to classmates and faculty. Because of my age I have been told not to go out, and I am not even allowed to go shopping for groceries. I have been told to avoid young people. Avoid young people? That’s going to be very difficult for me. I love to spend time with them. It’s who I am. But I know it’s for the best. I know that this is the best way for us to get back to normal. So now I sit looking out at our beautiful Lake Lugano in the evening, sipping what I’ve aptly named my “quarantini,” thinking about what is really important. Not the beautiful scenery, but the human landscape: us, Franklin, the bonds of friendship, family, and shared purpose.

I can’t tell you how much I miss your energy and laughter, seeing you on campus, having a cup of coffee with you in the Grotto. For me, the best part of being a college president is being a part of your lives. But this crisis WILL pass.

I would love to hear from you personally. Please free to write to me; you know my email. It’s important right now that we listen to each other, that we work together and support each other. If you share on social media, use the hashtag #Franklinwestand, because we are truly stronger when we pull together.

I miss you guys. Be safe. Stay healthy.

Greg Warden