Dear Hokies,

You did it -- and I know it took courage to make it to the beginning of this fall semester. While you have had many beginnings, I cannot imagine you have ever had one like this. You have been heroic—pushing through waves of unexpected emotions, adapting in hundreds of ways, and employing mind-bending creative thinking as you adapt your goals to our COVID-19 environment. I happen to believe you will be the strongest, most tenacious, community-minded generation yet. We’ll get through this pandemic and then you’ll take the world by storm -- inventing, tackling huge problems, and strengthening just about everything in our culture.

First, there are not enough words to capture my thanks. Your sacrifices and commitment to Virginia Tech are humbling. Keep it up. I know you’ve seen some be dismissive of the work it takes to follow public health directives. Keep on regardless -- model the way, speak up for what’s right, and show what can be done when the committed majority care about something larger than themselves. 

Second, the older I get, the more I know how quickly the years fly by. A couple of you Hokie seniors, including my son Brayden, have told me how fast the college experience has passed. When you’re a first-year student, four years seem like an eternity. But when you’re a senior, I’m almost certain you’ll report these past years have felt like one short breath.

If life has taught me anything, it is that the pace of it all should not interrupt real, intimate, healthy, life-giving connections with other human beings. I am convinced this is what matters most about life and living, and I believe this is still possible even in the middle of a pandemic. Whenever I pause to take stock of a week, a year, or a decade, I am certain that my most profound moments of growth and learning have occurred in the context of community. No matter your year at Virginia Tech, and no matter the world’s seeming limitations, I believe investing in friendship is what will help you survive.

In 2020, a year where our diversity too often divides our world, Virginia Tech can choose to be a different kind of community. What if it’s true that a few simple actions may actually hold the power to set a fully integrated, interdependent community in motion? When I talk with students, I challenge them to take risks by investing in friendships across the broad spectrum of our brilliant diversity, and I urge them not to be afraid of reaching toward one another with kindness, even when we do not understand each other. Sometimes, I offer these questions as starting points:

  • What is a new thing you can try this year that would require a little courage?
  • What is one way you could develop an intentional friendship with someone whose life experience, perspective, or beliefs are different from your own?
  • How do you help yourself push through the discomfort required when experiencing the unfamiliar?

I believe our most promising moments are when people listen, empathize, and seek to understand perspectives, realities, or experiences that are diverse, unique, and different. This is not easy or even common, but when we serve one another in this way, that is how we transform Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) from a motto into a way of life. 

Is there any better way to live?

With hope,

Frank Shushok Jr., Vice President for Student Affairs