May 15, 2020
I would like to thank you for salvaging Mother’s Day for me and my family this past Sunday.
My wife, Lindsey, and I have two sons, Nicholas and Jacob (and, yes, two dogs, Teddy and Ollie). As you may recall from my remarks at our start-of-term town hall, early last fall Lindsey wasn’t feeling right, and in November, she was diagnosed with cancer. She had surgery in mid-December, and from early February through a few weeks ago, she then underwent a chemotherapy regimen. The risks of Lindsey being immune-compromised have escalated markedly amidst the world’s respiratory pandemic. Accordingly, we have reluctantly set up a “home within our home,” where Lindsey can live isolated from the rest of us.
The regret of all this hit me very hard on Mother’s Day. In our before-all-this world, our family had developed some well-loved Mother’s Day traditions. Lunch at Simon Pearce, on the patio overlooking the waterfall – where, more years than not, we would see at least one Tuck-student family. A spirited family game of Scrabble. Lindsey playing piano and harpsichord.
Mother’s Day this year started with none of this. Simon Pearce is closed to dining in, and even if it weren’t, it would be too risky for Lindsey. Her self-isolation means no Scrabble – no anything in person that isn’t socially distanced. And so on. By mid-afternoon, I was feeling regretful and resentful. The universe was denying our family our well-loved things at a time where it seemed to me that, well, we deserved it.
It was clear that no one was enjoying my sour mood, so ever-loyal Teddy and Ollie bounded out the door with me for a walk. And that’s when you students salvaged Mother’s Day.
As we three walked, my stewing about the unfairness of my circumstance gave way to reflecting on you students. This spring has denied many things to every one of you – things at Tuck and things beyond as well. But time and again in our Tuck community, you summoned the energy to make a choice: to set aside the regret over well-loved things denied, and to find ways to create new things that could, though different, still manifest the essential spirit of the well-loved things.
In our virtual classrooms, you embraced breakouts as a new way to create the energy of Tuck learning. In place of the MBA World Cup at the Sachem fields, you embraced the excitement of FIFA20 on Xbox. And, you embraced new ways to show grace and kindness. For me, this one was personal. On April 20, Tara Nooyi T’21 emailed me a link to a collection that she helped compile, “Letters to Dean Slaughter.” About 125 of you had taken the time to write Lindsey and me a letter: of support, of prayer, of hope, of humor. I was, and I remain, awe-struck by this gesture – as does Lindsey.
So I pulled up this collection on my phone. I re-read aloud to always-interested Teddy and Ollie a few of the letters that kindly mentioned them. And I realized that I needed to follow your example if I didn’t want to ruin the entirety of Mother’s Day for Lindsey and our boys. I realized that you can play and sing music socially distanced; the songs of Mary Poppins, one of the boys’ favorites when they were little, sound great at 20 feet like they do at two feet. I realized that the Sunday New York Times crossword can be worked on socially distanced; yes, it’s not Scrabble, but it still excites your vocabulary and it is similarly spatially rewarding. The dogs and I walked home. Our family ended up enjoying a delightful Mother’s Day evening.
Yesterday, Jacqueline Novogratz closed her remarkable View From The Top talk here at Tuck by counseling us all to remember that while you cannot control what events will befall you, “you can choose how you will respond.” Thank you for how you have chosen to respond to our world by helping create this historic spring term here at Tuck. Great leaders are great teachers, and one of the wonderful things about teaching is you never know exactly when and where your lessons will sink in and be applied. I appreciate what all of you – especially Tara and her fellow letter-writers – have taught me this term.
As always, please take good care this 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.