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Dear Mountain Lion family,

Though we find ourselves in difficult times, I am continually amazed by the many acts of kindness and of grace that I witness among you every day. Whether it is a faculty member creating new course content on no notice to ensure that we keep offering instruction, a peer tutor learning how to use videoconferencing to keep assisting fellow students, or a staff member putting in long hours to answer every emailed question individually, I am in awe of your resilience and your extraordinary decency. You have made me proud to be a Mountain Lion since the day I set foot in the Enchanted Valley, but never more so than now.

The strength I see in our community makes me confident that we will weather this storm, though doing so will be no easy task. The danger of COVID-19 to our students, our faculty and staff, our loved ones, and the people of Towns County and the region is real. It poses a fundamental threat to lives and livelihoods. As President, it is my duty to do all in my power to mitigate this threat to our community. Therefore, today I announce that all spring 2020 courses will be offered online for the rest of the semester, and the May 9 Commencement ceremony will be postponed until a later date to be determined.

I understand that these actions will leave many of you feeling disappointed, disillusioned or angry. You are right to feel as you do. You didn’t become a Mountain Lion for online classes or conference call advising sessions. You became a Mountain Lion for exceptional classroom experiences and for one-on-one conversations in professors’ offices, for board games in The Towers’ common spaces and marshmallow roasts by The Village, for study sessions in the Miller Library and for games on Miller Field. All of these have been taken from you, and for that, I am profoundly sorry. Please know that I would not have made these decisions were there any other option, but with the health and safety of every member of our community at risk, this was necessary.

You will have questions. My team is still working on answers. Disaster management is typically organized into four phases: prevention, preparation, response and recovery. We are still responding to circumstances that change rapidly, and we will not have answers to all your questions until we have begun recovering from this pandemic. I ask for your continued patience as we work through a reality that was unimaginable to many of us just a few weeks ago.

To ensure that we limit the potential for transmission of the virus, the campus will be closed to all but essential staff. If you previously chose to stay on campus, you will be required to return home; exceptions will be approved only in extraordinary circumstances. If you left materials in your room, you will not be allowed to retrieve them until the Student Development staff can develop protocols for all residential students to do so safely. You should expect specific information about these and other procedures early next week. Again, please be patient.

In closing, I want to address the members of the Senior Class. You have been particularly affected by this emergency. You’ve been planning for Baccalaureate, for Vespers, and for Commencement for years now, and you feel that they’ve all been taken from you. Though they won’t happen as we all had hoped, we will make them happen somehow. I promise.

Stay strong, Mountain Lions,

Drew L. Van Horn, Ph.D.

P.S. The email address [email protected] and hotline (706) 379-5383 are still the best places to direct your outstanding questions about COVID-19’s impact on YHC.

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