President Connie Ledoux Book on what "Normal Plus" means at Elon a year into the pandemic.
Two days before the Class of 2021 graduated, the university hosted an evening celebration in Rhodes Stadium. The warm spring temperatures and beautiful North Carolina sunset offered the more than 1,000 students who attended an opportunity to take off their masks and enjoy an evening of games, food, music and fireworks. Smiles were on everywhere and offered a sense of comfort and familiarity. The outdoor event was inspired by COVID in that it provided a healthy way to be mask free and together. The gathering was the second new event associated with graduation; the first was a “senior College Coffee” that allowed faculty, staff and students to offer congratulations before parents arrived and the festivities began.
We all agreed that we wanted to keep these new commencement events as “traditions” in future years. They are part of a growing list of lessons learned and new operational undertakings we want to carry forward out of the pandemic. I’ve recently called this new era at Elon “Normal Plus’ operations, meaning that we will still hold firm to our residential model of higher education because we know and more fully understand the strength of being face to face for learning. But we want to “plus” it up with the important and valuable lessons we’ve learned in the past year. Lessons like the power of technology to bring alumni, employers and friends of the university into our classrooms to offer insights into professional and personal experiences. Or the importance of being together in smaller groups that allowed us to get to know one another more fully and created a less hectic environment.
We all agreed that we wanted to keep these new commencement events as ‘traditions’ in future years. They are part of a growing list of lessons learned and new operational undertakings we want to carry forward out of the pandemic.
Our future “Normal Plus” operations will also embrace what we witnessed about the Elon community. We looked out for each other. We masked, we tested and tested again, we vaccinated, cleaned our shared surfaces, and worked together to adopt practices and behaviors that kept our community healthy. We trusted each other and we celebrated together when the daily campus dashboard showed zero COVID cases and zero under quarantine on our final day of the 2020-21 academic year.
The new knowledge about ourselves will also be a part of “Normal Plus” operations at Elon. I learned how much I enjoy and need the company of others, even when those conversations are about the small stuff. Maybe especially when those conversations are about the small stuff. The everyday small talk of books, movies, trips to grocery stores and what we planted in the garden. Conversations about how my new puppy is giving me the run around and almost has me trained! The comfort of shared frustrations that, when together, you can laugh about.
Standing on the field in Rhodes Stadium looking at the smiles of seniors and the joy of simply having fun with each other, we all felt their hope that soon we would be on the other side of the pandemic. Their smiles, the promise of a return to a post-pandemic life of normal, plus the power of what we now know to be true about ourselves, the Elon community and our world. Elon looks forward to “Normal Plus” in the year ahead.
Connie Ledoux Book