‘To Soar Again’: L.D. Russell on Elon’s power to prevail

Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies L.D. Russell penned an essay and offers a video message about how Elon students and alumni will be able to use what they have learned at Elon to "soar again."

Looking ahead as Elon along with its students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies L.D. Russell gathered his thoughts and penned the following essay.

In this inspirational piece, Russell puts the current crisis into perspective and offers his encouragement to current Elon students and the alumni family. He discusses the roles they can and will play during this challenging time, and how they will tap into what they have learned during their time at Elon to “soar again.”

The video below features Russell reading a selection of his essay, which is offered in full below.

“To Soar Again”

Legend has it that there is an ancient curse: May you live in interesting times. I think you will agree that this historical moment certainly qualifies. We have watched in wonder as the coronavirus so quickly brought much of the world to a halt, one community, one city, one nation at a time.

We now see national, state, and local governments struggling to grapple with a menace, unprecedented in our lifetimes, that threatens to overwhelm the very systems on which our human society, not to mention our individual lives, are based, most crucially of all the medical establishment but also the economic and social systems that support and enable our lives.

We shelter in place and worry for our loved ones, our friends and co-workers, perhaps even strangers in harm’s way, and certainly all who are risking their own lives to care for those affected, as well as those who face risk to provide us with life’s necessities, food, water, and supplies.

Welcome to this brave new world, my friends.

In the midst of such a crisis, I am reminded of words I heard Elon’s President Emeritus Leo Lambert speak years ago. They have never left me. Elon University, he said, is preparing the thoughtful, compassionate, smart, and collaborative leaders that the world needs. He was speaking to a specific audience in a particular place at the time, but I hope his meaning resonates with every Elon student, each alumni, and all of us presently engaged in this work of helping fashion the leaders of the future who will now have such a remarkable, once-in-a-generation opportunity to corroborate, plan, and implement the rebuilding of society that will be necessary after this storm has passed.

There is a temptation to feel helpless in such chaotic situations, when the current of events flows so quickly we wonder if we might all be swept away. As they say, these are times that try our souls. If that be the case, in this truly unique moment let us look deeply within ourselves and ask not just what is going to happen to me or my family but also what can I do to help? Where can my talents, my strengths, my knowledge and expertise be applied most effectively now and in the weeks and months to come? It may well be that we were made for these times.

Let me speak directly to Elon students and alumni for a moment. Though you could not have imagined it during your time walking these hallowed halls, this is the very moment you have been equipping yourself for. How will you respond?

We are not powerless in the face of this onslaught. We each have a role to play in the current struggle as well as its aftermath. Let me encourage each of you to draw on the skills you have learned for creative and critical thinking, empathy for those in need, and communication even and especially across social and political boundaries that now show their irrelevance in the face of this dire threat to us all.

How and where can you most effectively put those practiced skills to work, whether at a local, city, state, national, or international level? Whatever personal and professional challenges you may be facing right now, no matter how daunting they may seem, never doubt that a new and better world will emerge from these ashes, but only if we step up to fashion it.

I will say it again. Though the fabric of our lives has changed, perhaps forever, we are not powerless. May Elon University, this beloved institution to which we owe so much, which has survived despite every setback and continues to thrive in the face of ongoing challenges, the alma mater which has seen us through our own trying times and will need our support more than ever in days to come, may Elon be our inspiration to move forward into an uncertain future with the assurance that together we will rise up.

I leave you with the wise words of President Connie Book, whose leadership through these rocky days has been steady and sure: “Our iconic mascot, the Phoenix, reminds us that sometimes the ability to spread our wings and fly can be challenged. In those times, staying focused on what we each can do, helping others as much as we can help while we take care of ourselves – that collective strength, that’s how we will navigate this flight, knowing that one day, very soon, we’ll be able to soar again.”