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Celebrating the End of a Remarkable Academic Year

May 19, 2021

After a year in which so many ceremonies, rituals, and traditions were put on hold, it may feel like we’re emerging from a kind of cocoon. The weather is warming, businesses are opening, and we are hugging our loved ones and celebrating their accomplishments after months of separation. Commencement is always an important occasion in the academic year and a seminal moment in every student’s life. But in 2021, Spring Commencement marks an incredible milestone in our work as a community.

It’s a time of hope and excitement. And it’s tempting to want to leave this year behind and simply get back to work, focusing on all the wonderful things ahead. But it’s important to remember the lessons we’ve learned since Spring 2020 — about ourselves, our values, and our future goals. As a historian, I’ve found it meaningful to look at some of the artifacts and evidence we’ve left behind that capture a bit of what we have experienced and accomplished in that time. Here are just a few examples:

145,000 COVID tests. That’s how many times we endured swabs for the sake of our Stony Brook community’s collective health, with Student Health Service working tirelessly to administer tests. Students demonstrated great responsibility in keeping campus safe, and our staff members’ committed presence ensured that our facilities were clean and functioning under many new guidelines. Another 158,000 tests were administered by Stony Brook Medicine at South P Lot. We’ve pulled through the pandemic with compassion, grit, and a commitment to each other. 

400 million minutes of Zoom sessions held on West Campus alone. Our faculty continued their exceptional teaching and creative research. Our entire academic community rapidly adapted to new modes of online education and remained steadfast in its dedication to knowledge despite serious Zoom fatigue ... or perhaps Microsoft Teams fatigue, in the case of East Campus.

10,000 COVID patients, 350,000 vaccinations, and 130 COVID trials. Stony Brook healthcare professionals have cared for us and our neighbors all across Long Island, and our researchers have been focused from the start on virus-related research, including five NIH-funded and three vaccine-related clinical trials currently in process.

$2 million for student scholarship support. That’s what was raised in just one night two weeks ago at the Stars of Stony Brook Gala. Our community partners and global Seawolf network have supported Stony Brook so well in a time of critical need. I will never forget the generosity of our alumni, donors, and community.

$15 million in contract savings. That’s what our work together on the Strategic Budget Initiative (SBI) has already achieved. One of our highest priorities when I arrived was to engage in a process to create a more sustainable financial future, and you have taken this call to action seriously. Participation in the SBI has been outstanding, with more than 300 faculty and staff engaged in the work of five task forces. Thousands participated in surveys, town halls, and campus conversations. Now the final recommendations will help to improve our research performance, enable growth of academic programs, remove barriers to productivity, streamline administrative processes, save money from consolidating duplicative contracts, and grow revenue from better use of our campus facilities. Every recommendation will have an implementation plan, a budget, and an executive sponsor. To learn more, visit our Achieving Financial Sustainability website.

I’ve been thoroughly heartened by our university community’s resilience. I have seen our staff elegantly answer an unparalleled call of duty. I have seen our faculty find ways to build knowledge and provide solutions. I have seen our students support one another, create, question, and debate. I have seen them overcome adversity to reinvent their goals and use their skill sets for the common good.

Across the country, this spring and the class of 2021 have become symbols of renewal and hope for a better future. James Baldwin wrote, “I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that.” Indeed, in many ways, we are so much more than we were a year ago, and yet we are also so much more than just this past year.

Our 7,710 newest graduates possess a demonstrated determination to succeed. And much the same can be said of their alma mater. This has been the most challenging year of my entire career, and I hope there will never be another one like it in my lifetime, but Stony Brook has continually inspired through it all. Surely there will be challenges ahead, but after all we have been through, I know that we have built the capacity to get through them…stronger, together. 

I hope that you, as I do, look forward to returning to the in-person activities, events, and interactions that have made Stony Brook so dynamic. We will continue to plan the Fall semester with a careful, science-based and data-informed approach. We are excited for a bright future, and want to thank every one of you for making it possible. I can’t wait to meet you all in person.


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Maurie McInnis