Unprecedented, challenging, inconvenient, strange, boring, lonely, uncertain, costly, anxious, depressing, quiet, surreal.  These are just a few of the words used to describe the COVID-19 pandemic, surely the most significant challenge of our lives.  In fact, words seem inadequate to describe the complete impact on each of us physically, emotionally, socially, psychologically, and financially.

I have personally lived through numerous political assassinations, economic recessions, a major energy shortage, multiple wars, the attack on 9/11, not to mention multiple natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and previous epidemics.  As difficult as all of these were on us individually and collectively, the total impact of our current challenge is arguably the most significant by far, comparable to World War II.  History will ultimately be the judge.

A favorite form of recreation of mine is white water canoeing.  With our current situation, I’m reminded of the fear, uncertainty, and adrenaline rush prior to and during a run through the rapids.  I think the biggest lesson is that at least for recreational boaters like me, when running the rapids, Dig in and Get Through It!  It doesn’t really matter how good you look or how much water your boat takes in.  Style points don’t count. You simply do whatever necessary to get through the rapids safely into calmer water. Yes, you rely on your experience and training, stay calm, stay alert, use common sense, keep everyone in the boat, and most of all Keep Paddling!

There is an essential level of intensity and focus required while navigating rapids that is unlike anything you normally experience.  It requires your full attention and absolute best effort to paddle through and successfully negotiate the immediate challenge.  Interestingly, many at this critical point have a tendency to freeze and let the current have its way.  That’s the worst mistake possible.  By contrast, those that focus, dig in, and keep paddling ultimately enjoy the incredible feeling of accomplishment once you make it through the rapids and be a more skilled navigator of future rapids.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have witnessed the incredible faculty, staff, and students of Tennessee Tech putting those characteristics on full display for all to see.  I am amazed at the expertise, patience, compassion, and relentless efforts of the entire campus community during this time of unprecedented need.  The stories of faculty, staff, and students going out of their way to help each other have been heartwarming and truly inspirational.  I hope to be able to share many of those stories in the days ahead.  And just like paddling those rapids, once we get through this current challenge we will all share an incredible feeling of accomplishment and be a better university for the effort.

Faith, family, community, common sense, discipline, patience, compassion, focus, effort are a few words used to describe what is needed to navigate this challenge.  At Tech we will remain focused on Getting Through It, NEVER stop paddling, and becoming even better prepared for future challenges.


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