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Beginning a New Year

Presidential Letters 23–24

Published September 1, 2023

September 1, 2023

Dear friends,

Just two months ago, I wrote of my joy in having arrived at Smith. And despite unusually heavy rains and voracious mosquitoes in July, by August, the Commencement exercises of the School for Social Work had pulled me into yet another experience of joy.

Today, my joy is renewed again with the start of the academic year and a campus filled with the energy of more than 2,500 new and returning undergraduate and graduate students and almost 1,500 staff and faculty whose ambitious efforts we could not do without. The air is filled with anticipation of the year ahead, and I look forward to meeting each of you.

“Joy” and “community” are important words. To me, they are often mutually constitutive: Joy can be a byproduct of community, and genuine community enriches our sense of joy. This year, I’ll be looking for ways to create and contribute to our community, and I encourage you to do the same. There will be opportunities—both informal and formal—to come together in recognition of our shared pursuits and our delightful differences. There’ll be occasions to celebrate each other and to simply be together, from casual gatherings to long-standing traditions like Mountain Day and Staff Council Cider and Donuts. And of course, a more formal get-together will be my inauguration on Saturday, October 21, to which you are all invited.

As I interact with people on and beyond campus, the special nature of the Smith community is often a topic of discussion. Through these conversations, I am learning all the things that people love about Smith, as well as a healthy helping of the things that folks find most frustrating. I’m relieved to hear the latter because this means we’re in it together; it also means that we’ve still got some work to do! But even more important, the candor tells me how much people love this place and the aspirations all of you have for it. My conversations have also reminded me that community takes work: to build relationships, to remain committed to those relationships, and to work together toward common goals even when we have different stories.

While people come to Smith for a variety of reasons and head in as many directions after they leave, my compass tells me we have a common true north: that sharing knowledge is the beginning of incalculable good. Each of our roles here contribute to Smith’s legacy as an extraordinary institution of higher learning, one that values difference and community in pursuit of a more inclusive, sustainable, and just world.

Thank you all for welcoming me. Now it’s my turn to welcome you—to a new academic year, full of promise.