Published: Nov. 5, 2021 By

A student’s university experience is often a time of rapid development in their sense of belonging, growth, exploration, curiosity, dedication and self-identity. This past year, determination in the face of adversity was added to the list. 

In my 47 years on campus, I have witnessed turbulent social times and have seen students face tough questions and issues. However, the past year and a half tested fortitude and collective mettle like no other time in my memory. The challenges have been as monumental as they’ve been unpredictable. Through it all, the CU Boulder community has not only met the challenges, but has risen to overcome them. 

Our students adapted nimbly with the seismic shift to remote learning during the pandemic and have remained flexible as we continued to refine teaching and learning strategies. 

At the outset of the pandemic, many students and professors who were engaged in important research at both the undergraduate and graduate levels felt a responsibility to act. They refocused their work on COVID-19-related projects that had beneficial real-world impacts — both on campus and in service to communities near and far. 

The racial reckoning of the past year also initiated a new level of transformation. As a result, the campus community is engaging at a deeper level than ever before in seeking progress toward diversity, equity and inclusion. 

CU students are helping drive that mission. They were involved in the selection process for the new senior vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion, Sonia DeLuca Fern​​ández; they worked closely with campus police to create a community oversight review board; and they collaborated with faculty and staff in the creation of the Center for African and African American Studies

As we have gathered back on campus in Boulder this academic year, I have seen students embrace both the joys and challenges of university life with a new set of skills gleaned over the past year and a half — tenacity, flexibility and self-awareness among them. These skills will serve them well throughout their academic careers and into their professional and personal endeavors.

While students will face new and evolving obstacles, I am confident that they will rise to the occasion individually and collectively, bending into the wind, but never breaking. 

Philip P. DiStefano is the 11th chancellor of CU Boulder. He is the Quigg and Virginia S. Newton Endowed Chair in Leadership, overseeing CU Boulder’s leadership programs.

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Photo by Glenn Asakawa