Family and Friends Welcome Remarks

Monday, August 22, 2022

Hello Families and Friends!

So nice to be here with you!

Congratulations to you. You have successfully launched your young adult into college and beyond. That is no small feat. I have done this myself three times (I have three adult children), and it never gets easier. All the hopes and dreams, and then all the anxiety and potential for disappointment—it is a lot. So, if you are feeling a little tearful, or a lot tearful, or just a little out of sorts, give yourself a break. It’s OK. Today is a big deal, for us all.

I want to begin my remarks by underscoring we are in a year of transition from COVID-19 as novel to COVID-19 as endemic—meaning it is expected to be in our community and will not be eradicated anytime soon. My academic background is public health, and I want to assure you that our policies and practices will always be consistent with the most up-to-date guidance from local, state, and federal public health agencies. We will be prioritizing the most effective approaches to keeping the community of students, faculty, and employees healthy and safe, as well as protecting people who are the most vulnerable.

The most effective strategy for protecting people who cannot be vaccinated (and therefore remain most vulnerable to hospitalization for COVID-19) is to vaccinate everyone else—and we have mandated that. Well-fitting masks and testing are also easily available on campus and students may mask at any time. We also have extensive resources in Health Services and the Counseling Center when students need more support. You can count on us for staying well-versed in the scientific literature as the year proceeds, adjusting policies as needed, and being responsive to you and your student. Thus, if you have questions along the way, please be in touch directly.

I want to give you a little more information about me and my role at the College. I have been the president since 2017, before which I was at Yale for twenty years as a professor of public health and Head of College. I live here on the campus with my husband, John, and we both really enjoy knowing the students. I have office hours every Sunday evening for students who want to come talk about just about anything; students can email me ahead of time to sign up. And after office hours, I write a weekly email to all students, reflecting a bit on the week past and anticipating the week ahead.

Now to you—as parents, families, and friends. Your role is critically important this year. But what I have to say may not be what you expect. My reflections are not based on my role as a parent but rather in my role as a person who has lived and worked with college-age students for decades and been through a lot with families and their students.

The first item to recognize is that your child is now an adult. I know—it is so hard to accept, but they are indeed mostly all 18 years old now. They are preparing themselves to be fully independent. We all need to give them that space. And that is hard. With text and cell phones, to really give space is difficult for most of us. What I mean by giving space is allowing your student to make decisions without being second-guessed, without oversight, and aligned with their own emerging views and voices. Some of these emerging views and habits may be distressing to you. They may choose paths that are not what you would choose for them. But it is time. It is their moment to define themselves, to try on different ways of being, to explore new ideas and endure the consequences of their choices. You know this. I know you do. But start preparing now to commit to letting your student grow in their independence from you.

The second point is that you must restrain your natural instinct to save them. And your student may be complicit in making this difficult for you. They will call you and tell you “Everything is wrong.” They will sound like they want your help. They may even ask your advice. Resist this temptation!! Do not give them advice. Instead, ask them more questions. When they say or text, “I have no friends. The faculty do not like the way I write. I am going to fail my classes. My roommate is never home, and all I do is sit in my room alone,” do not jump in to solve the problem! They may even cry, which of course is going to make you cry. But you must restrain yourself. Even if your student does not say it to you, what they really need from you is your presence. They need you to listen, not to find a solution but to ask open-ended questions that prompt more thinking. Some helpful prompts that signal your presence might be: “What do you think about that?” or “Tell me more about that.” This is so hard—because all we really want to do is make them feel better. But the ability to do that on their own, with you accompanying by your presence but letting them research the options and make their own choices, is absolutely critical. This is integral to the movement from adolescence to young adulthood, and you intervening to solve problems can stall that development.

Last, after I have scared you, I want to give you some reassuring news. Almost everyone graduates! And even factoring in the pandemic, on average over the last five years, 93 percent of students had jobs, fellowships, or graduate school acceptances within 6 months of graduation. I also want to assure you that we have a residential and academic system here that will support your young adult fully. In the houses, we have student fellows, house advisors (who are administrators), and house fellows (who are faculty) who your students may access for just about anything. We have a wonderful academic advising system through the Dean of Studies office and Deans Herrera and Porcello. And a host of other deans and directors who can support your student at every turn. And I am here as well; students know they can reach out to me directly, and I can connect them to support as needed. I also always have a lot of chocolate available, which can help.

I want to close by thanking you for sharing your student with us for these four years, and I am committed to doing everything we can to ensure the time is fruitful, challenging, and life-changing in all the best ways. For sure, massive social forces—the pandemic, racial inequities, and the climate crisis to name a few—continue to challenge us in unprecedented ways. We know that we will face difficulties, and we are dedicated to responding to make students’ experience better. My hope for this year is that we will strengthen many capacities—the capacity to think outside the box, to see the world from new perspectives, to care for one another in new ways, and to trust in community. These are bedrock skills, which are fundamental to a liberal arts education and will equip your young adults to lead meaningful lives together.

Please be in touch if you have questions; you can always reach me by emailing me at:

Welcome to the Vassar family!

—Elizabeth H. Bradley, President, Vassar College