I think that each month of 2021 will be better than the last because of the incredible resiliency and cooperation that I have seen among my colleagues and our students.

“Every month of 2021 is going to get better than the last.” - Governor Whitmer

Governor Whitmer’s prediction that every month of 2021 will be better than the one that preceded it seems likely to hold true if only because the year started out with such a tremendously difficult month.  Nationally, the cold, dark month of January has seen a record number of new novel coronavirus infections, a record number of deaths from COVID-19, a violent protest-turned-insurrection attempt, and anxiety about the transfer of power.  On campus, we returned for a staggered start to the spring semester as the university balanced competing demands of state and federal requirements with a firm commitment to supporting students in a fair and equitable manner.  And, on top of all of this, each of us is trying to balance working, learning, and our responsibilities to our families and friends during a very difficult time.

I also believe that the Governor’s prediction will hold true because of the progress I have seen over the last several weeks.  The two vaccines that have been approved for emergency use have shown to be very safe and incredibly effective – safer and more effective than we could have ever reasonably hoped.  The pace of vaccination is increasing each week, and we are on the verge of having additional vaccines approved for emergency use.  Over the last week we have seen increased investment from the federal government in vaccine manufacture and distribution.

On and around campus, we also see reasons for optimism.  We continue to see increased activity on campus with a ten-fold increase in in-person courses this semester and twice as many students living in the residence halls.  After a very challenging fall semester for the Dean of Students, our students seem to have acclimated to the safety precautions that we expect of them.  Local K-12 schools have announced plans to bring students back for in-person instruction and the state has allowed restaurants to begin to reopen for in-person dining.

I also think that each month of 2021 will be better than the last because of the incredible resiliency and cooperation that I have seen among my colleagues and our students.  The shift to remote working and learning has forced all of us to find new ways to collaborate and communicate with one another.  I have found myself engaged with families on Facebook and students on Reddit.  To be honest, Reddit has surprised me.  I had assumed that it would be a toxic environment but have found that the /msu subReddit (which has 20,000 members and usually 100+ are on at any one time) is a remarkably useful and supportive space for students to work with one another, faculty, and alumni.  There and elsewhere, I have seen students offering creative solutions, empathy, and support for one another.    

It has been a difficult academic year.  But, as Camus wrote, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”  So, as they days grow longer and we see the end of the pandemic on the horizon, I agree with Governor Whitmer.  Every month will be better than the last.

Feedback and suggestions, especially from the MSU community, welcome: email largent@msu.edu.

Mark Largent is the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Michigan State University.