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Inspiring Words in a Crisis

Check out all of our COVID-19 coverage and analysis.

Inspiring Words in a Crisis

In stressful times of disruption, college and university presidents, provosts and other leaders speak directly to staff and students with words of empathy and reassurance.

Whether delivered in writing, by video, or by voicemail, all of these messages acknowledge anxieties, apologize for having incomplete information, and thank the many people working hard to manage the crisis. Perhaps they’re comparing notes, or getting similar professional advice, but a surprising number of the COVID-19 statements from Canadian campus leaders have pointed out that the coronavirus pandemic is “a rapidly-evolving situation,” that institutions are taking actions “out of an abundance of caution” for the good of the community, and that we all find ourselves in “uncharted territory” or “uncharted waters.”

These messages have also included some particularly uplifting and encouraging words of optimism and resilience. Here, I share some passages that struck me as most inspiring:


“This is a black swan moment for our country, which requires universities to lead and not follow. As we work through current challenges, we must constantly fix our eyes on the future. We must learn from our mistakes and from what we do right. Because changes to our world will linger after this virus subsides, we must find ways to educate and sustain our university families while operating in a new environment.”

E Gordon GeePresident
West Virginia University – March 25 2020


A university journey is never a straight path, there are many twists and turns along the way, and this time the universe threw in a major curve. Navigating through this unforeseen turn of events has taken courage and forced us all to face unexpected challenges.”

Deb Saucier, President & Vice-Chancellor
Vancouver Island University – March 30 2020


“This is a time for Concordia researchers to come to the nation’s aid by acting on our sense of social responsibility, harnessing our spirit of innovation, and offering our transdisciplinary expertise. As knowledge creators, we must guide policies and assist decision-makers during these uncertain times. Over the next few days and weeks, I urge you to respond to the calls for proposals, look through your inventory of personal protective equipment, and find ways to help. Consider how your research program might continue to address systemic issues brought to light by the pandemic in the longer term.”

Paula Wood-Adams, Interim VP Research & Graduate Studies
Concordia University – March 27 2020


“Everyone’s commitment to the continuity of our academic mission and to our students has been unanimous and unwavering. As we venture into unexplored territory today, trust your expertise as scholars and teachers, your love of knowledge, and the ability of students to adapt and to contribute to facilitating your transition. Compassion and self-compassion will see us through… Today as we connect in new ways, as learners and as humans, we reaffirm that our commitment to knowledge and to each other will always prevail.”

Benoit-Antoine Bacon, President & Vice-Chancellor
Carleton University – March 18 2020


“This is an experience that we are going to reflect back upon for years to come and the days ahead will require us to experiment and be flexible. We certainly won’t get everything right on the first try. It is incumbent upon all of us to focus on what we can control, to remain open-minded and positive, and to plan for various scenarios in a situation that is both disruptive and unfamiliar. Now is the time for all of us to lead the way by engaging in evidence-based decision-making and by modeling resiliency, agility, and courage. That is what leaders and educators do.

Janet Morrison, President & Vice-Chancellor
Sheridan College – March 17 2020


COVID-19 is testing everyone’s mettle. Feelings of helplessness and apprehension are natural accompaniments to any natural disaster. But so too is our capacity for benevolence and calm. Social distancing does not mean social disconnection. On the contrary, during this stressful time, we need to reach out and connect with each other more than ever, albeit in ways that avoid close physical proximity… Though the COVID-19 pandemic knows no boundaries, neither does our shared humanity. We are all in this together.”

Andrew Petter, President & Vice-Chancellor
Simon Fraser University – March 15 2020


“I promise that, hopefully in the not-so-distant future, our doors will be open once again, welcoming everyone to our campuses to work, study and connect as freely as possible. Until then, I ask you to keep doing what you’re doing — be safe, be strong and continue caring for each other.”

Claude Brulé, President & CEO
Algonquin College – March 18 2020


We are a community of innovators and problem-solvers and I have no doubt that this transition will improve as it evolves, and result in some long-term learning and benefits. Ten days in, it’s as important to remember how far we’ve come as it is to acknowledge how far we have to go.”

Kathy Kinloch, President
BCIT – March 22, 2020


Over its 140+ years, Western has faced several moments of adversity, but we have not experienced anything quite like this before. We’re in uncharted territory… The university attracts students who have extraordinary passion, deep commitment and intellectual brilliance, and your commitment to the Western community is something I’ve especially noticed in my first year here. We all look forward to the day when we can resume our regular activities. Meanwhile, it is our resolve in such an extraordinary situation that will make us an even stronger university.

Alan Shepard, President & Vice-Chancellor
Western University – March 12 2020


“I wrote in my open letter last fall that we need to be ambitious for ourselves, that we need to be self-excelling, our eyes fixed on ways in which we can serve the greater human good. Unexpectedly we find ourselves confronted in our daily lives with an almost unimaginable threat to that good, and we must not fail to address it in our teaching, learning, and research. We must also confound it in the ways we relate to our community outside the university and in society at large… This is a time to demonstrate the values without which our university could not succeed, even in the best of times: compassion, understanding, trust and selflessness.”

Patrick DeanePrincipal & Vice-Chancellor
Queen’s University – Mar 23 2020


“I want to thank all of you for being flexible and for looking out for one another during the unprecedented events of the past week. Communities show their true character in times of crisis, and the response of the Laurier community to this situation once again proves its fundamental strength, dedication, and compassion.”

Maureen Mancuso, Interim Provost
Wilfrid Laurier University – March 19 2020


“Simply put, at a time when our actions are accentuating the physical separation between us, the enduring strength of our community is more evident than ever… The coming days and weeks will no doubt bring further challenges, calling on all of us to be adaptable, creative and understanding. But I am confident that U of T will emerge a stronger, more resilient organization, thanks to you.”

Meric Gertler, President & Vice-Chancellor
University of Toronto – March 19 2020


“The COVID-19 emergency has thrown our health-care systems, our economy and our social fabric into disarray. In addition to claiming lives, it presents a global challenge to our usual ways of living, working and interacting with others. We have the opportunity now to focus on what is important, and to find our way through this crisis with strengthened ties to each other and a renewed commitment to work together on common goals. We are all stewards of McMaster’s legacy. We each have a role to play in upholding the fundamental importance of science, evidence, expertise, perseverance, humanity and community that will bring us through this generational challenge.”

David Farrar, President & Vice-Chancellor
McMaster University – March 27 2020


“It is truly ‘all hands on deck’ as we endeavour to keep our students, faculty, and staff healthy and safe and ensure the continuity of our essential operations… I especially wish to acknowledge everyone who has been working above and beyond the call of duty over the past days and weeks in the face of this situation. This is a trying moment, but given the deep knowledge, capacity, commitment, and resolve that marks the McGill community, I trust fully our collective ability to weather this period.

Suzanne Fortier, Principal and Vice-Chancellor
McGill University – 
March 2020


“One of the greatest strengths of Saint Mary’s is our sense of community; I am confident that this strength will carry us forward.

Rob Summerby-Murray, President & Vice-Chancellor
Saint Mary’s University (Halifax) – March 2020


Compassion and care are among York’s most important values. Some members of our community may need special accommodations to sustain their mental and physical health as the COVID-19 situation unfolds, and unfortunately, others will likely fall ill. York will be part of the network of family, friends and institutions that will help them recover. Let me say, without reservation, that York will be there to support every member of the community as we face this pandemic together.

Rhonda Lenton, President & Vice-Chancellor
York University – March 13 2020


As the world struggles to contain an unprecedented health crisis, you have the additional burden of adjusting to dramatic change while trying to complete the academic semester. We want to thank you for your patience and goodwill. We also want to thank you for responding to the needs of the community and not participating in unsanctioned street gatherings on St. Patrick’s Day. We are deeply impressed and very proud that Laurier students rose to the occasion and put the health of the community above the draw of a large party.”

Deb MacLatchy, President & Vice-Chancellor
Wilfrid Laurier University – March 17 2020 


“Addressing the challenges arising from COVID-19 and the rapid pace of changing information coming at us has been unlike anything I have ever been a part of in my career. And I imagine it is the same for all of you. These are unprecedented times… This is not an easy undertaking – it would be a huge job in normal times, never mind doing this in a time of great disruption and personal stress.”

Christine Watson, Interim President & CEO
Red River College – March 18 2020


“As a postsecondary system and as a society, we are dealing with a rapidly evolving global pandemic, and the health and safety of our campus community is our top priority.  Our plan is to finish the semester safely, albeit differently.

Bill Best, President
Cambrian College – March 13 2020


“We understand there is a lot of uncertainty at this time and this can make many people feel more anxious than usual. I want to emphasize how important it is for us to support and to look out for each other throughout these extraordinary times. We are a community, and in times of crisis, communities stay strong by supporting one another.

Ron McKerlie, President
Mohawk College – March 17 2020


“I am proud to be a member of a community that has come together to respond to this unprecedented challenge. We don’t know what the next few weeks will bring – that is one of the hardest things about this situation – but we do know we will continue to act with compassion… I know we will continue to be there for each other as a community, even as we learn how to operate from a new distance.

David Ross, President & CEO
SAIT – March 16 2020


“It’s not surprising to me that we are all feeling a mix of emotions individually and collectively. But it’s amazing to me how many positive things I have heard this week, directly or indirectly. There remains lots of encouragement, lots of laughter and lots of appreciation. The Mount Royal campus community continues to impress me. I’m glad I’m here with all of you to get through this together.

Tim Rahilly, President & Vice-Chancellor
Mount Royal University – March 18 2020


“I have a feeling many of us are having thoughts and conversations that begin: “When this is all over…” Perhaps you’ve been thinking about activities you’d like to resume, or new priorities are emerging for you based on this experience. There is a combination of anticipation, creativity and confusion in this type of reflection, with so much still unknown. Still, I believe it is helpful to think this way, just as it is humbling to realize that the future will unfold only partially by design. Somewhere in the middle, we will find our way.”

Paul Dangerfield, President & Vice-Chancellor
Capilano University – April 3 2020



No doubt there are a great many other eloquent and inspiring messages out there that I have missed; please add them in the comments below!




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