From the Director: The New Familiar

Remote learning will continue to be our routine through the end of the school year, and Commencement will likely take place mid-summer.
About every second or third conversation of late features some reference to “the new normal.” Permit me to confess that nothing about this increasingly regular at-home routine feels normal. And I’m not expecting that it will. What could be said is that it’s familiar, in surprising ways, given that we've turned the world upside down in barely a month. So when guidance came our way about not returning to campus for the rest of the semester, it hit from two directions.
 
First, hearing that public health interests require us to maintain physical distancing protocols makes perfect sense. After our state’s slow start in response, the remarkable flattening of our curve and the decrease in our transmission rate below 1.0 show that our efforts matter—just look at the IHME data set from U of Washington. Cases and mortality, devastating as they have been individually, have yet to outstrip the resources of the heroic health care front lines. And we still need vetted, approved methods of bringing people together in numbers under a single roof.
 
Even knowing all that, the finality and loss inherent in this reality hurt just as much. Each of our minds drifts easily to some culminating ritual, some happy gathering that marks year's end. We've been so busy earnestly figuring out remote learning that it seems only fair to be rewarded by well-earned festivities together, as we ought to be. But now we have to wait, and sadness comes pretty naturally, at least it does for me.
 
Yes, we’re in good company, respecting Gov. Bill Lee’s thoughtful request. Yes, we’re standing with Metro Nashville Public Schools in their decision, a choice that imposes hardships on families beyond anything most of us will know. Yes, we reached quick consensus with our independent school neighbors on the benefit of a combined approach for the good of our city and its people, and yes, we’ve commiserated with colleagues from coast to coast, and we know we are living an indelible chapter in history, but why us, right?
 
That question stretches far beyond my capacity to provide a decent answer. Guessing you could find a wiser source. What’s left for us at USN is to make something of this time we almost certainly would not have chosen. Let’s start by appreciating that we’re now four weeks in, almost halfway to the finish line for this fourth quarter of our academic calendar. We've created and learned, of necessity, at a hard-to-fathom pace, to the point where we're making adjustments and course corrections. The artifacts of that journey emerge with each new day. In some ways, we'd face challenges toggling back into the schedules of now long-distant February. 
 
With help from school communities out West, who started down the remote learning path a few weeks ahead of us, we anticipate a different set of challenges at this point. Forgive yourself for a little more fatigue than you might expect, given the amount of sleep now available. And maybe a periodic motivation deficit—watch for us to vary some routines and leave room to get ready for the big push to a meaningful finish. We’re entering phase II, after this month, and the announcement that this is our route forward through May 22.
 
Meanwhile, we continue to explore ways to best celebrate the beloved members of USN's Class of 2020. Our cap and gown orders sit delivered on campus, but every next word from health officials suggests that big gatherings in May still remain contrary to guidelines. We’re also exploring possible June and July dates, knowing that the “valve” spoken of by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York will be opening only slowly through the summer. On that note, we’ve circled May 1 for a decision about USN Summer Camps on campus, feeling the strong interest in our offering those programs right alongside our responsibility to limit any exposure and transmission, even as we anticipate the pandemic abating locally.
 
And for some of us here, thoughts turn to resuming classes together in August, most likely following the example of Germany or Singapore or other nations ahead of our curve, folding in emerging plans envisioned by Gov. Gavin Newsom in California. Count on us to be ready and to make good use of the summer for that purpose. At this point, having a few weeks to plan and prepare feels like a gift from above.
 
Mostly, though, we’re living each day as a chance to be there for students, for families, and for one another, in the new familiar. Let that be enough for right now.
 
With great appreciation for your community spirit,
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    • Director Vince Durnan

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