category: President's Blog

November 2020: So Much for Which to be Thankful

November 2020 President's Blog Image

Tired of the endless COVID-19 laments? 

I am.

Done with the divisiveness of a polarized society?  Me, too.

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I want to revive my monthly series of blogs so that I may express some profound gratitude.  I want to pivot away from wringing our collective hands about “unprecedented challenges,” “heightened anxieties,” and “unnavigated uncertainties.”  Instead, I want to focus squarely on what we have, on what we enjoy, and on what sustains us.  At this special place called Gardner-Webb, we actually do have much for which to be thankful.  I see it every day.

My spirits are buoyed by the strength and unity of our campus community.  Together, we’ve made our way through the maelstrom of a protracted pandemic.  Together, we’ve maintained the high quality of instruction that our students expect and deserve.  We’ve increased enrollment, effectively managed our finances, and kept the worst of Coronavirus at bay.  Much of American higher ed wilted in August when institutions couldn’t keep virus clusters from sending their classes online and their students back home to mom and dad.  Locally, some guessed the same fate would befall us.  Yet, we persisted.  We will successfully complete our Fall semester.  Although campus life may have looked a bit different this time around, we made it work.  That’s no small feat, and everyone deserves credit.  Ask me about the year 2020 and I won’t complain; instead, I give thanks for an amazing place called Gardner-Webb.

We have each other.  We have a talented, ambitious, and resilient student body.  Their youth and indefatigable drive are what motivate the rest of us.  I feel so very fortunate to be at a university where we can actually get to know our students, to learn their stories, and to accompany them—at least for a while—on their life’s journey.  I am thankful that Gardner-Webb has remained open for business since the pandemic arrived on our doorstep back in February.  Undeterred by masks, contact tracing, and quarantines, our students have found ways to live, learn, and have fun.  Many days, they teach us just as much—maybe even more—as we teach them.  We feed off their energy.  We live vicariously and proudly through their achievements.  We revel in their smiles.  They mean everything to a place like Gardner-Webb.  This year, I give thanks for all of our students.   

We have a staff that soldiers on, no matter what the situation.  Campus dining, housekeeping, university police, grounds crews, facilities maintenance, coaches and athletic trainers, and the whole diverse range of academic support professionals…these folks show up every day, roll up their sleeves, and get it done.  They have gone beyond the normal call of duty by preparing, packing, and distributing meals to countless quarantined students.  They have kept our facilities clean and safe.  They have run toward problems—rather than away from them—when duty called.  They are the true Runnin’ Bulldog heroes of 2020, and I give thanks for every member of our staff.

We have a faculty that has had to be nimble.  Our professors have worked to find the best ways to help students meet their learning objectives.  That has meant some innovation, especially with imperfect arrangements such as hybrid courses, but they have found a way.  At Gardner-Webb, academic rigor meets Christian compassion, and I have been impressed by the ways in which our scholar-teachers have endeavored to support students without lowering the bar of expectation…here, empathy coexists with expectations of excellence.  I give thanks for all those who provide inspirational teaching to our students, and I am grateful for the quality of mentorship to which our faculty is committed.

We are blessed to live and work in the town of Boiling Springs.  There may only be one stoplight, but there are countless big-hearted people who love Gardner-Webb.  The health professionals in our area have been invaluable to our COVID mitigation efforts.  Bulldog Club members haven’t flinched in their efforts to support our student-athletes.  The Trustees continue to invest their time, talent, and treasure to make GWU a top-tier institution.  I give thanks for our friends, neighbors, and partners here in town and across Cleveland County. 

We have a mission and a faith foundation that encourage us to be forward-thinking and future-looking.  We approach Thanksgiving and then the season of Advent with renewed hope and expectation.  We count our God-given blessings each day, rather than dwelling on the frustrations and fears of a forgettable year.  My friends, with a little reflection I hope you’ll come to the same conclusion that I have…we’ve still got it good.  We shape young people into professionals, citizens, and persons of good character.  We use research to solve problems and to lift up communities around us.  We demonstrate to the world the indomitable spirit, courage, and strength that a people of faith can harness.  Ask someone from Gardner-Webb about 2020 and we won’t whine; instead, we will offer our humble thanks for all those blessings we have enjoyed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dr. William M. Downs

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Community Update November 24, 2020

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