Uncertainty breeds anxiety.

As we begin the spring semester in 2017 we must acknowledge that our community faces widespread uncertainty. Like many familiar issues that we face in the 21st century, the new uncertainties are global in scale, involving politics, economics, the environment, the nature and future of American society, and America’s role in the world. The uncertainties that many members of our community face are also intensely personal: “Will my fundamental rights be taken or compromised?”; “Will I be allowed to stay?”; “Will I be targeted or persecuted because of my color, religion, or identity?”.

The present uncertainties are not shared uniformly. What some will see and experience as threatening, others may consider as a welcome, and perhaps overdue, change of direction. That’s ok, as long as we collectively and individually renew our shared commitment to seek to understand one another, to respect one another, to value one another, to care for one another, and, if necessary, defend one another.

And we must not forget that 2017 is also a year of opportunity, hope, and celebration. The University of Rhode Island celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2017. We celebrate 125 years of preparing students for leadership and success. For 125 years the University of Rhode Island has exemplified the vision of President Abraham Lincoln and the Congress of 1862 that education of the people, and for the people, is America’s and the world’s best hope for enduring prosperity and peace.

We should always remember that in 1862 the future of America as a nation was in doubt. More Americans had already died in the Civil War than in all of our previous conflicts combined. Deep and bitter hatreds threatened the very existence of American democracy. But in the midst of that, only weeks after the terrible battles of Shiloh and the Seven Days, battles that destroyed completely the hopes of an early or negotiated end to the Civil War, President Lincoln and the Congress had the vision to create the world’s first and best system of public higher education – the American Land-Grant Universities.

In 2017 the University of Rhode Island is much larger, much better, more influential, more diverse, and more successful than anyone may have envisioned in 1862 or 1892, when URI was founded. It is a university truly worth celebrating, not for its facilities (as excellent as they are), or its traditions, but for its people. It is the students, staff, and the faculty that have made, and will continue to make, the University of Rhode Island a truly special place that is a force for good in America and the world, no matter how uncertain or challenging our circumstances may be at any given moment.