Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 18, 2021

Dear all,

As we celebrate the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am reminded of his belief that it is easy to be generous in times of comfort and convenience, but our true measure is shown in how we act in times of challenge and controversy.

This has certainly been a year of challenge and controversy. Not only are we facing a global pandemic, but also our nation continues to grapple with the destructive forces of structural racism, economic inequality, social exclusion, and climate change. With these lethal challenges all around us, it is a comfort to remember Dr. King—a man who expressed courage and compassion even as fear and violence surrounded him. Let us draw inspiration from his words and actions, inspiration that can carry us through the crucial work of undoing racism, reducing economic inequality, promoting social inclusion, and seeking solutions to sustain our climate.

I want to take part of this day to draw attention to the many people in our community who have shown courage and strength through these last months. Our front-line workers—health services staff, safety and security staff, all facilities operations staff including the mail room and receiving staff, dining staff, residential life staff and house advisors—have shown up to campus every day and helped keep our community healthy and safe. In the middle of this devastating pandemic, it has taken their courage and sacrifice to operate the campus, and today we should take time to thank them as we prepare to start a new semester. I am also very thankful to all the faculty, staff, and administrators, who tirelessly worked to help get us through last semester in the pandemic.

On this day of remembrance, let us continue to be kind, to be vigilant, and to remember “we precedes me.” In his letter from a Birmingham jail in 1963, Dr. King provided an insight so needed today: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affected one directly, affects all indirectly.” I hope you may have time today to listen again to Dr. King’s address at the Lincoln Memorial, where he said, “I say to you today my friends that even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”

We have been through a year of collective trauma, tragedy, and worry. The year 2021 brings new opportunities to learn from each other, and Dr. King’s life reminds us how much work we have to do together. When Dr. King insisted that love required strength, he was pointing us toward building communities based on empathy, compassion, and justice. This new year, may our Vassar community—on campus and around the world—aspire to embody Dr. King’s legacy.

Elizabeth H. Bradley, President
Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604