On this Father’s Day, I am thinking of my father. Even though I lost him to cancer 10 years ago this week, I feel his presence as I go about my life and work in the choices I make and the values I hold. We are very different people, he and I, but I never doubted his love for me, his worry over me, and his support of me. I am grateful to have had his presence in my life for my first 50 years.
In my current role as chancellor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, I often hear from parents. Mothers and fathers alike write to my office when they have concerns. I appreciate these messages. I take them as a sign that these parents care about their students’ welfare, as my father did for mine. Having a support system at home helps our UH-Hilo students thrive. These days many of the questions from parents are about our fall opening of campus: Will the quarantine still be in effect? Will my child be safe on campus? What kinds of guidelines and processes are we putting into place? Is it really a good idea to go back to face-to-face classes? Etc., etc.
We are answering these questions as best we can with the limited information that we have in the ever-changing world created by COVID-19. We are talking about daily or at least frequent health checks, much like the ones in place at doctors’ offices. Are you running a fever? Do you have a cough? Making sure we have space to quarantine a student if they have symptoms is part of the plan, as well as physical distancing where possible. We will reduce the number of seats in classrooms, ask some students to attend some of their classes online, and make sure everyone on campus wears a mask.
We will continue to follow the guidance of the Department of Health, the state and county, and the CDC. Plans are underway throughout the UH system and on our campus to ensure that we deliver the best education possible in the safest way we can manage. We know, however, that students come to UH-Hilo for the hands-on, face-to-face education we can provide. The island, our local communities, and our natural resources are all a part of a UH-Hilo education. People across campus are devising creative ways to make sure our academic programs and support activities remain meaningful and enlightening for all our students.
We also know that young people often feel invincible and can sometimes neglect the impact of their actions on others. We will continue to urge responsible behavior: mask wearing and hand washing need to become routine, and it is here that our students’ parents can partner with us. No matter where your student may be attending school this fall, make sure they know that the mask is there to protect them as well as all those they come into contact with. We only stay healthy as a community if we all do our best in this regard. An ounce of discomfort is worth a pound of health, to adapt a common proverb.
My father had much more discipline than I do. Perhaps that stemmed from his service as a Marine in Honolulu from 1944-45, the distant roots of his love for Hawaii he would later instill in me. When confronted with things he had to get done, Dad would always start with the hardest one. I cannot say I always follow that example, but I can and will do things like wear a mask, wash my hands, and do my best to protect the community of UH-Hilo as we return to the new normal this fall.
Bonnie D. Irwin is chancellor of the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Her column appears monthly in the Tribune-Herald.