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Students in masks on UM's Fort Garry campus.

What a year we’ve had

President’s message to students on one-year anniversary of COVID recovery operations

March 11, 2021 — 

A year ago, I was preparing to return to my home province and begin my new role as the University of Manitoba’s 12th president and vice-chancellor. I was looking forward to being on our lively campuses again—to meeting with students and seeing you in action. Like all of you, my plans were entirely upended when COVID-19 required us to make drastic and immediate changes to the way we work and socialize.

Our University of Manitoba community has lost colleagues, students, friends and family. We have had to grieve, and grieve differently. Our most sacred and meaningful traditions have had to be postponed, abandoned, or entirely reimagined. The flag over Administration Building is at half-mast today in recognition of the National Day of Observance for COVID-19, and to commemorate the people who lost their lives and the significant impacts we have all felt.

You have had to study, learn, research, work and make friends differently. You have had to let go of much of what you imagined this year of university would be. I hear you when you say it hasn’t been easy. I see your struggles, efforts and contributions. 

This includes those who joined the fight against COVID-19 during early days, and to vaccinate people as we move forward. And those who have volunteered as mentors and supported mental wellness to remind each other that you’re not alone. Thousands of students took part in virtual Welcome Day, Career Fairs, and UM’s Virtual Community Centre to support each other and connect. Students continue to push themselves in competitions like Three Minute Thesis and JDC West. And many of you have participated in academic workshops and counselling groups. In a year like no other, you have shown up and found new ways to thrive. Well done, I know it hasn’t been easy.

And we must remember that the community has rallied together to support you! Thanks to $3.1M from the Manitoba government’s Manitoba Scholarship and Bursary Initiative (MSBI) and the generosity of UM alumni and donors, an additional $4 million in bursary support is now available to provide immediate financial assistance to over 5,000 UM students. Our donors are also helping eligible students to acquire needed technology through the COVID-19 UM Student Technology Fund.

I look forward to welcoming more of our community back to our campuses as it becomes safer to do so. I look forward to joining a crowd of fans to cheer on our Bison athletes, and to enjoying a show from the University of Manitoba Theatre program in the John J. Conklin Theatre. I can hardly wait to stand in front of thousands of proud parents, friends and future alumni at an in-person convocation. And what a gift it will be to hear a live Desautels chamber ensemble sing.

As we reflect on how far we’ve come, and on how much this year has cost us, I am encouraged by the opportunities ahead. You are not alone, and though none of us know the future, we have hope that we are through the worst of this. As we all do our part to follow public health advice, UM’s COVID Recovery Steering Committee continues to plan to safely resume more in-person activity and more will be shared in the coming days.

I am deeply proud of you and I hope you are proud of yourself. Thank you for showing up this year in remarkable ways and inspiring us all with your courage and strength.

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