Keeping Alumni Connected

In a virtual town hall, Kenyon’s president and provost update alumni on the successes of a challenging year and look ahead to a more normal but still innovative fall semester.

By Molly Vogel

In the final alumni town hall of the academic year, held May 27, President Sean Decatur and Provost Jeff Bowman reflected on the challenges and successes of the past nine months as Kenyon navigated the pandemic and began to look to a future beyond it. 

“This is a year that was incredibly challenging, but a year that really just made me proud about all of the best things about Kenyon,” said Decatur.

Bowman added that faculty and students rose to the occasion with energy, dedication and mutual generosity in a year that was like no other. “People feel really tired and good; we should be really proud of what we’ve done,” Bowman said. 

The academic year began with first-year and sophomore students studying in-person with juniors and seniors learning remotely. During the spring semester, only first-year students were remote. 

“Our students were remarkable over the course of the year, in terms of their resilience,” Decatur said, noting that students had no mid-semester breaks to reduce chances of COVID-19 transmission off-campus. Vaccination clinics were offered in the spring and helped boost the rate of vaccination to more than 90% among students and more than 80% among employees by the end of the academic year.

All classes will be in-person this fall, when Kenyon will welcome one of the most academically accomplished, diverse and talented classes in Kenyon history — and also the largest, despite being recruited almost entirely through virtual means. President Decatur called the result “stunning,” particularly given the uncertainties of the pandemic.

The larger-than-expected Class of 2025 has prompted a need for creative thinking about space constraints in Gambier. One solution is offering the option for a group of incoming students to begin their Kenyon careers in Copenhagen, Denmark, with one of the College’s long-time off-campus study partners, DIS, founded in 1959 as the Danish Institute for Study Abroad and now offering programs in both Denmark and Sweden. 

Bowman explained that Kenyon routinely sends more students to DIS than any other off-campus program and that the non-profit study abroad foundation is academically rigorous and in the spirit of the liberal arts, while offering a robust support network for students. Two or three Kenyon faculty will accompany the cohort, with consideration for preserving Kenyon traditions such as the First-Year Sing still in the works.

After the past year, the Kenyon community has broad experience translating traditions and events into different formats. The Office of Alumni and Parent Engagement created dozens of virtual events, including the town halls, which will continue even as campus reopens. Two weeks of virtual reunion events were also offered, complete with a BINGO card mailed to alumni in reunion years so they could play along at home. An event offering a sneak peek of the new Chalmers Library included a brief video tour featuring and filmed in part by students. 

The town hall also served as the president’s address to classes in reunion years. Kamille Harless ’99, outgoing president of Alumni Council, joined to present alumni awards and turn over duties to incoming Alumni Council President Janae Peters ’10.

The town hall also offered a chance to celebrate the success of the 36-hour Kenyon Together giving challenge held in early May, during which more than 1,300 alumni, parents, faculty, staff and students gave a total of more than $665,000 to Kenyon. These gifts to the College’s annual funds impact every element of life and learning on campus, including scholarships and financial aid.

View a full recording of the town hall.