InsightOut: Together in this Season of Gratitude and Hope

Dr. David Sylvester is the 8th President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. A professor of medieval social and economic history, he holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Fordham University, New York City and has taught for three decades in universities in Canada and the United States.

Together in this Season of Gratitude and Hope

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
(Hopkins, Grandeur of God)

One of the beautiful things about being a part of the University of St. Michael’s College is our attentiveness to the rhythms of life in community. Our pastoral urban campus, with its historic oak trees, colourful ivy and beautiful rock gardens, keeps us attentive to nature, and demands that we acknowledge the passage of seasons. The academic year is traditionally framed, of course, by all the necessary signposts of the academic year, such as move-in days, reading weeks, and midterm and final exams. But St. Michael’s is also defined by the rich cultural and religious mosaic of our community, and we are invited throughout the year to celebrate the many important feast days that help our students, faculty and staff bring meaning to their work and studies: solemn and joyful holidays like Easter, Ramadan, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah, and Nowruz. Even as I write, friends and colleagues are preparing to light candles to mark Hanukkah. 

So, here we are together now in Advent. For Christians, we wait and prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, the light in the darkness, our hope for the world. For all of us, this is meant to be a time for completion, for rest and reflection with friends and family, and for preparations for new beginnings.   

As I take stock of this past year, my thoughts are filled with gratitude. In this most remarkable year, in which all of us have experienced disruption, loss and sadness, I am continually amazed by the dedication, kindness and generosity of the people with whom I work. Their compassionate leadership and sacrifice have bolstered fellow students, professors, and colleagues alike. I see it every day in the bold actions and quiet kindnesses they take on. And I know that much more is done unseen. 

The response to this pandemic from our students, faculty, staff, trustees, and alumni invites more than gratitude, however. It gives me great hope for the future of our community, and for our role in continuing to bring hope to others. Many challenges remain ahead of us, but the compassionate resilience of St. Michael’s shines through and sustains us even in these darkest days of winter. I now approach each day understanding that our university serves as a light of hope in these difficult days, for each other, and for the society in which we live.

As we pause to celebrate the coming holidays, I wish each of you and your families, a happy and holy Christmas, and prayerful best wishes for a New Year marked by many new reasons to give thanks and to share in the hope that binds us all together.