Dear sleep deprived colleagues,

We ask you to take a few minutes to consider these not-so-solemn words. Full disclosure: You have all been muted for the duration of this speech.

satirical image of Abraham Lincoln in a mask near a tent on the KU campus
Abraham Lincoln was forced to cover his face after seeing this adaptation of his Gettysburg Address.

Four score and 700 years ago (or so it seems), the coronavirus brought forth on this campus a new semester, conceived in haste, cloaked in masks, and dedicated to the proposition that all Zoom meetings suck the life from us equally.

Now we are engaged in a great civil chore, testing whether this faculty and these students, or any faculty and students so distanced and so sapped of energy and so deprived of even a hint of a break, can long endure. We are met within a great white tent that reminds us every day of that chore. We have come to dedicate a portion of that tent as a final resting place for the remnants of normalcy we have all surrendered, six feet apart and clutching personal squeeze bottles of hand sanitizer, in so that this university might live.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot commiserate with – we cannot even take a nap within – this tent. The brave instructors and students, mildly coherent or fully brain-dead, who struggled here, have already commiserated far above our poor power to whine or snap. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget that this semester was, without doubt, the longest and most challenging in … in … like forever, for crying out loud.

It is for us, the mildly conscious and highly caffeinated martyrs of alternating cohorts, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that seems fated never to be nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – coasting 500 miles, uphill, on a single wheel, to the end of the semester – that from these husks of human beings all around us we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave their last full measure of self-respect – that we here highly resolve that these brain-dead shall not have burned out in vain – that this university, upon a hill, shall birth a new never-ending semester – and that education of the remote, by the remote, for the remote, shall not perish from the earth.

You may unmute yourself now.

Now take a deep breath (and a nap if you need one). You can make it through the rest of the semester. — Doug Ward


Doug Ward is the associate director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and an associate professor of journalism and mass communications. You can follow him on Twitter @kuediting.

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