There is nothing normal about the start of this academic year, but the message delivered to the more than 400 Lawrence University first-year and transfer students who arrived Tuesday for Welcome Week – some in person, some virtually – was plenty familiar.

You are now Lawrentians. The expectations and the opportunities are many, and through it all you will be welcomed, challenged, embraced, celebrated, and supported.

Lawrence lays out plan for Fall 2020 here.

Challenges, excitement mix as Fall Term arrives: Read more here.

“You will learn from the academic endeavors you ace, and from the ones you struggle through; from the close friendships you develop and from the ones that fall apart; from successes in athletic competitions and in performances, and from failures,” President Mark Burstein said in a Welcome Week address delivered virtually to the incoming students and their families. “Your life at Lawrence will not always be easy, but study after study shows it will provide a lifetime of dividends through higher compensation and, even more important, a greater sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. At each step you take, we will be here for you.”

For the nearly 80% of first-year students who opted to be on campus for Fall Term, masks, 6 feet of space, and a COVID-19 test upon arrival are among the most visible signs that this isn’t business as usual in September. But those in person and those accessing the term from a distance were assured they will find support at every turn as the Lawrence community adapts to these new protocols, as “we reinvent learning and community in this time of a pandemic,” Burstein said.

Students and their families circled through the Alexander Gym horseshoe for drive-through COVID testing Tuesday morning before heading across the river to begin the process of moving into residence halls, all with the assistance of Lawrence staff and with tight restrictions on who could access the facilities and when. 

Amid all the reminders to wear masks and maintain physical distancing, there were hugs and photos and tearful goodbyes. 

The journey has begun

The Class of 2024 comes to Lawrence from around the country and around the world.

Ken Anselment, vice president for enrollment and communication, welcomed a class that hails from “families of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures.” Consider these numbers:

37: States, and the District of Columbia, represented in the class.

36: Countries represented by students who are citizens and dual-citizens.

24: The number of transfer students who have come to Lawrence from two- and four-year colleges.

21%: The percentage of first-year students from Illinois. Rounding out the top 10, in order: Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, Texas, New York, Colorado, Missouri, South Korea, and Michigan.

81%: First-year students pursuing a degree in Lawrence’s College of Arts and Sciences. The other 19% will pursue a course of study in the Conservatory of Music (28 students are pursuing a double degree in both).

116: First-year students who will compete as student athletes (once athletics competition resumes). That’s about 28% of the class.

“All of us are here to learn”

In the President’s Welcome ceremony, typically held in Memorial Chapel but moved to a virtual format this year, Christopher Card, vice president for student life, said “welcome” is the key word in this very special week. And just as Lawrence welcomes its newest students, he urged those students to also welcome their classmates and their new community with open hearts and open minds.

“Communities like ours are at their best when we engage each other with mutual respect in our attempts to form lasting and meaningful relationships,” Card told the students. “We fail the educational process and ourselves when we draw conclusions from fear, stereotypes, or a refusal to engage. Fundamentally, all of us are here to learn – with each other and from each other.”

Being an intellectually honest and vibrant institution that values “open inquiry, free expression, and the respectful community that gives such inquiry and expression purpose and meaning” is part of the foundation that is Lawrence University, said Catherine G. Kodat, provost and dean of the faculty.

“These are tried and true principles for learning in community,” she said. “In this extraordinary year, though, we need to go beyond the tried and true, because the challenge facing us all in this moment is making the commitment not only to learn in community but also to learn new ways to be a community.”

A willingness to be creative and flexible and inclusive will play out in a myriad of ways as students find their rhythm on campus and online, all with the uncertainties of the pandemic and the ongoing pain of racial injustice front and center. It will be evident in in-person and virtual classrooms, in performance spaces, in faculty interactions, in athletic competitions, in residence halls, and in other social exchanges.

“Our community mirrors the world in which all races, ethnicities, and religions are represented,” Burstein said. “Take advantage of this rich diversity. Befriend someone who comes from a different background than yours. And please join us as we work to become an antiracist, equity-minded campus community. These experiences will enrich your time here and prepare you for life after Lawrence.”

Fall Term will begin on Monday.