A message from the Alumni President about COVID-19

This unprecedented global health crisis demands we bring forward the best of ourselves and our education

By Heather Raymond, ’82 BEd, ’86 Dip(Ed), ’95 MEd, ’02 PhD, on March 18, 2020

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This morning, I looked at my desktop calendar in disbelief. How can it be only mid-March? 

Our world and university community have endured so much in 2020. In January, the U of A lost 10 people and three members of their families in the Flight PS752 crash in Iran. In February, we learned more about how new budgetary realities might affect us. And in just the past few days, our campuses — along with virtually every part of the world — were turned upside down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In-person classes at the U of A, along with many Canadian universities, were moved online. The university has taken other steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19, while continuing to keep operations going to support students and research. 

Still, many students fear how the virus might affect their studies. You and every one of our more than 290,000 alumni around the world no doubt face great uncertainty at work and home, too, as we try to slow the spread of this virus.

How do we come together during this unprecedented time, even while health officials tell us to keep our distance from each other? To me, the answer is to not lose sight of why we came to the U of A in the first place. We came together to solve problems in new and innovative ways. We came to make friends and harness our talents in this living laboratory. We came to think beyond ourselves to help others and share our ideas and energy with the world.

I saw that spirit come alive among volunteers with the Alumni Student Support and Engagement Team, who rushed to support the grieving process among the friends, relatives and coworkers of Flight PS752 victims. I see it among our staff and faculty, who moved quickly over the weekend to prepare classes for online delivery to thousands of students. I see it among our researchers, who are searching for new hope to fight COVID-19, including virus-busting surgical masks, faster testing and even a future vaccine

And I see it with Alberta’s chief medical health officer and alumna, Deena Hinshaw, ’97 BSc, ’04 MD, ’08 MPH, whose steady, measured and decisive leadership has helped calm fears in this troubling time.

I struggle to remember a time when events across the world — a missile in Iran, a new virus in China — have rippled into our lives with such incredible speed. Political instability, regional conflicts, economic uncertainty and rapidly spreading health scares challenge our global systems of communication, travel, finance and trade. We can do our part by fostering trust in the research and expertise that will ensure these systems can respond to the global crisis we now face. 

With fear in large supply, we must also respond with hope. You can do that by honouring our alumni tradition of volunteerism and good citizenship. As you continue to keep your work and home lives together, check in on your neighbours, support a local business or donate to a charity. Be a face of bravery and leadership in your community.

Our U of A education prepared us to solve problems, to act, to uplift the whole people. This is a defining moment to do just that.