March 29, 2020
To the Class of 2020,
Forty-three years ago, I stepped on campus for the first day of my Senior Spring. It was a term that highlighted those things that are so special about the Dartmouth student experience. I completed and defended my senior honors thesis--the capstone to my amazing Dartmouth education. I reveled in the outdoors: one last hike up Moosilauke, one last swim in the Connecticut, one last season of intramural softball. I looked forward with nervous excitement to my next step after Dartmouth--in my case, entering a PhD program the following fall at Caltech. And I celebrated the friendships that have, for me, lasted a lifetime.
Today, you too experience the first day of Senior Spring, though it is not the way anyone wanted it to be. For sure, the classes you will take, despite being virtual, will be outstanding. But you are separated from the magic of the Hanover campus, from your classmates and from the special opportunities to celebrate the friendships you've forged during your time as students. And after Dartmouth, you will enter a world of uncertainty and challenge, with the health of our communities in jeopardy and the economy reeling.
The first thing to say is that we miss you. We miss the positive energy that, in a more perfect world, you would be bringing to campus today. I wish you could be here physically, engaging in the time-honored Dartmouth traditions centered around friendship and place, with a heavy dose of rigorous academics. I feel for you and share your deep disappointment and frustration. It is entirely understandable and a testament to how much you've come together as a class during your time in Hanover.
But as much as you may be missing out on some of the enduring legacies of Dartmouth, you have been granted an extraordinary gift with respect to the greatest Dartmouth legacy of all. And that is the legacy of leadership.
As bittersweet as it may be, COVID-19 has given you a powerful opportunity. Through nearly four years of learning both in the classroom and through a myriad of other activities, you have grown and matured. You have sharpened your understanding of the world and elevated your perspective on success and disappointment.
This is your leadership moment. This is the moment you've spent the last three and a half years preparing for. It's one that will require every ounce of creative problem-solving, resilience, emotional intelligence, and self-awareness that we have been working to instill in you during your time at Dartmouth. Your fellow students from the Classes of '23, '22 and '21 will be looking to you in the face of this lousy hand we've all been dealt by an unprecedented global health crisis. When you step up with a positive, can-do spirit, they will be watching and learning. And as sure as your actions will bring you closer together as a class, they will define your class--the Great Class of 2020--forever.
In due time, we will find a way to celebrate all you've accomplished and all that your Dartmouth experience has meant to you, with all the appropriate fanfare. For now, I encourage you to put all you've learned--and will learn this term--to work to help your friends, your families and your communities through this crisis and to show your younger classmates what leadership, compassion and humility are all about. I know you will.
Sincerely, Philip J. Hanlon '77 President