March 26, 2021
On Tuesday afternoon, over at the former JCPenney department store in West Lebanon, I was fortunate to receive my COVID-19 vaccination. The safety protocol was to wait 15 minutes after the injection before departing. As I stood in that waiting area, amidst now-empty shelves and still-on-the-walls promotion signs, I found myself thinking about how change—and, so often, unpredictable yet dramatic change—truly is a constancy in our lives.
"Why is JCPenney called JCPenney," I wondered at about minute five. With a bit of Googling, I learned that Missouri native James Cash Penney founded his first dry-goods store in Wyoming in 1902. Why not in Missouri? Because his doctor advised him to move someplace west to try to improve his poor health. Three days after graduating from college in 1940, a young man named Sam Walton started as a management trainee for JCPenney in Iowa—but he left after 18 months to serve in World War II, at the end of which he purchased a retail store that was the foundation of what became Walmart. At its peak in 1973, JCPenney had 2,053 stores. So, why was I standing in the shell of a closed JCPenney store? In part because of the massive disruptions to retail from technology companies like Google—and in part because of the pandemic. After years of sliding sales, in May 2020 amidst the pandemic’s collapse in in-person shopping, JCPenney filed for bankruptcy. What an arc of change!
As part of kicking off our spring term this week, I had the pleasure of moderating another Tuck Board Chat. And at the end of this wide-ranging Chat, when I asked what one piece of advice they would give to current Tuck students, every one of our three terrific alumni guests built off of the constancy of change. Russell Wolff T’94, EVP of ESPN+, counseled “staying true to who you are” amidst change that might distract and challenge you. Kate Jhaveri T’03, CMO at the NBA, stressed that “life is never linear, so we should all optimize on growth and learning.” Kevin Demoff T’06, COO at the Los Angeles Rams, in agreeing that life unfolds non-linearly, said that as a result, “don’t be afraid to be brave.”
The global pandemic of the past year has asked you to be brave in ways you probably couldn’t have imagined. We are called upon to be brave not in times of calm or of predictable linear progress, but rather in times of change that are unforeseen and that will challenge us. And the older I get, the more I have realized that it is easier (or, at least, less hard) to summon bravery when you take that kind of change as more of the rule rather than the exception.
Spring term is always one of change here at Tuck—so much of it exciting and invigorating, and yet change, nevertheless. I remain so impressed with how brave so many of you continue to be in co-creating a transformative Tuck experience amidst all the events of our world. Thank you for that. Welcome back to spring term at our School and all the change it will bring us—fingers crossed, historic change with vaccinations and other fronts of progress for our shared health and well-being. Keep well and enjoy the weekend.
Dartmouth has formed a high-level task force to plan for and manage possible disruptions related to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, monitor federal and state recommendations, implement guidance, and communicate with our community.