Top 10 Things I Am Grateful for at Valencia

Thursday, December 17, 2020

A Special Message From Sandy Shugart, Valencia College President

As we wrap up the Fall 2020 semester and the holidays approach, I hope you will allow me to share a few short reflections on our work and experience.

In a “normal” year, we would be enjoying live celebrations, gift exchanges, toy drives for the less privileged and special music and words. Alas, little has been “normal” in the past 10 months, much less the last few weeks, and my own family’s experience reminds me that this has been a season of loss for many of us. Thank you for the thoughts, prayers and words of encouragement you have shared with those who have experienced loss of family members this past year, including Jane and me. Still, even while we carry these losses, there is much to celebrate from the past year.

A sociologist/philosopher friend of mine sometimes says, “Coherent communities are formed around objects of common love.” This is a powerful idea, and it has been my experience of Valencia for these past 21 years. Valencia College is, in spite of our scale and distribution, an uncommonly coherent community because, in the midst of our remarkable diversity, we also have many common loves. One way of discerning these loves, especially in this season, is to recall the things for which we are deeply grateful in our work. All of them emanate from core values into which we fervently intend to live — that every person has transcendent value; that everyone can learn what we have to teach; that we need each other in deep collaboration to call out of our students the best of their talents; and that our best work is rooted in evidence, rigor and grace.

With this in mind, I’d like to share the top 10 things about Valencia this past year for which I am most grateful.

  1. We’re all in this together.  While the higher education workforce across the country has been reduced by more than 10%, Valencia has had no layoffs, reductions-in-force or furloughs. In fact, for those whose work couldn’t be done remotely, our talent sharing programs have not only allowed them to contribute, but also to discover much potential and many new talents for our future work.
  2. Our Board of Trustees has allowed us to lead the College and make difficult decisions on the basis of the best scientific and medical information. Our trustees trusted us and our collaborative processes to make the best decisions for our students and staff, including the schedule, whole new approaches to assigning grades and the distribution of millions of dollars in federal relief funds to students.
  3. Our amazing faculty “leaned in,” both in the remarkable conversion of instruction to remote models and also to serving our students with deep compassion, empathy, flexibility and encouragement. They did this with remarkable support for one another and from our teaching and learning staff in faculty development, learning support, instructional design and online learning.
  4. Staff members have done what had to be done. Many have converted vast areas of face-to-face services to remote models, without precedent or complaint. Others, whose services were required on campus, have faithfully kept the campus facilities safe, clean, beautiful, sustainable and ready for our eventual return.
  5. We’ve doubled down on our culture of collaboration. While many organizations revert during a crisis to top-down, high-control cultures, Valencia has found new ways to include many voices in important decisions. I don’t think the College has been more “together” in all of my years here. The communication has been stunning and involvement across typical “silos” to make decision for all of our students and the whole College together has exceeded all expectations. We are, paradoxically, more connected, engaged and communicative about every decision than we’ve ever been. And the presidential search about to be concluded has been the most transparent I have ever witnessed.
  6. Our partners have stepped up to support our mission. These include our own Valencia College Foundation, making it possible to serve all of our students with emergency support whether they met eligibility criteria for the CARES Act or not. Also worth noting are the local government leadership, local employers such as Orlando Health, Universal Orlando Resort, Walt Disney World and CareerSource Central Florida.
  7. The federal and state support has been generous through the emergency, especially the CARES Act funding and support for our short-term career training. While we have to take care of the College, our mission is to take care of our students and the community, with special attention to bringing the marginalized into the mainstream through education that leads to family-sustaining employment. Our students have received more than $18 million in direct support distributed through the College and many millions more in support of their learning and preparation for new careers.
  8. Even in the midst of the health crisis, our work in equity has been energized. We’ve learned as a college that we can have uncomfortable conversations and reexamine our assumptions and practices for the purposes of assuring that Valencia’s promise of opportunity is real for everyone. And this work, which belongs to all of us, can be joyful as well as challenging.
  9. A spirit of kindness, compassion and community toward our students and one another has marked so much of what we’ve done these past 10 months, even when many have been deeply fatigued or when their patience has been stretched beyond all normal limits.
  10. The courage and persistence of our students has been exceptional. All that we have done would be for nothing if our students weren’t willing to join us on this journey. They have persisted and performed at levels we could not have predicted, adjusting to new learning and service modalities as well as new life circumstances. They really are amazing.

These are just a few of the things for which I am grateful, things that point to our “common loves.”

I pray that your holidays, however they may be adapted to the public health crisis, will give you a time of deep rest, deep connection and the deepest of hopes for the future.

P.S. If you’d like to listen to a sampling of some music recorded by Valencia College student producers and engineers with a broken-down old president, you can sample a CD just about to be released by checking out this site: https://www.indiesound.com/profile/sshugart

The first tune is a Christmas classic.

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