March gives me the most emotional lift. In so many other parts of the country, March taunts you with a whiff of spring, but for the most part you are looking at the possibility of snow, sleet, and another several weeks of gray (looking at you, Boston with your forecast of 37 degrees and gray next Tuesday). Here in the greater Charleston area, March has our trees budding up, yellow jasmine starting to bloom, and pollen spreading across porches, stoops, and cars. Parents of middle school boys have even given up the futile efforts of questioning their decisions to wear shorts in all weather.

The season reflects what so many people are feeling right now. Hope and joy. Almost to the day, I am writing this a year after we finished our last in-person SAIS staff retreat, knowing that several SAIS member schools had already made the decisions to close campuses temporarily. At that time we were unsure of when we would return to our schools or where this pandemic would take us.

In that time, we have held 188 roundtables and hosted 76 webinars. We have sponsored numerous events with our colleague associations, with the largest hosting almost 2,000 people. The combination of all events includes almost 20,000 attendees. It is safe to say that this time last year, we never dreamed that we would have the opportunity to help connect so many people with ideas, resources, and each other. Through these meetings, we have all become familiar with our pets, family members, porches, offices, backyards, and a host of other details we might never have known were it not for this time.

Our schools also did what we thought impossible. You removed the physical connection from the education equation and kept nurturing your communities, educating students, and supporting people when they needed it most. Not only that, but when faced with the incredible challenge of revisiting every single aspect of on-campus life to provide for mitigation strategies largely contrary to what happens on our campuses every day, you and your teams rouse to the challenge. As an industry, we worked together to share solutions, support decisions, and talk through our mutual or unique obstacles. Perhaps like any boot camp experience, we might not choose to do it again, but these experiences have fundamentally changed us as leaders and have opened our eyes to many possibilities, strengths, and even weaknesses that will help us be stronger tomorrow.

If you take the time to look back across the mountain range, it is truly awe-inspiring what has occurred. We should all be incredibly proud of what has been accomplished. It also fills me with joy and hope for the road ahead. This is particularly true as we watch our incredible staff across our schools get vaccinated so that they can continue to support students and each other safely, and as we start to see glimmers of reunions with family and friends on the horizon after so much time away or anxious when we were together.

I have spent a lot of time reading and engaging in work around wellness. One of my favorite studies is out of Harvard. It started with the class of 1938 but expanded across generations and into the city of Boston. The ultimate conclusion of that study is that relationships matter to long-term quality of life and general happiness. Not the quantity of relationships, but the quality of those connections. Relationships and re-connecting are also tied closely to joy.

My hope for you after this tumultuous year is that this time has given you closer and new relationships, and that the time ahead gives you the opportunity to revisit those connections that may have weakened as we have worked at keeping our communities safe. May your spring breaks give you those opportunities and a time to rest.

As always, if there is anything at all that the SAIS team can do for you, do not hesitate to reach out.

Sincerely,
Debra