It’s never going to be the way it was, but it’s beginning to feel more like it used to be. Not quite there, but near normal.
That’s my take on where we are after two years of COVID isolation. The impact of a global pandemic, however, is enduring, and we are still dealing with its draining effects. The health and safety of our students remain a paramount concern, and we monitor public health indicators very closely on campus.
In this post-pandemic age, we have a greater awareness of our vulnerabilities, but classes are meeting in-person on campus with wearing face masks optional, and this past fall has been a semester full of student activities and programs. My travel schedule ramped back up over the last six months as I have attended events and engaged with constituents in several states and foreign countries.
Life on campus felt more normal at the annual lighting of the Christmas tree this year. Students tell us this is one of their favorite activities and a cherished memory during their time at Campbell. The tradition started in 2007, and after participating in my first semester on campus, my inner Texan told me that the campus needed a bigger and brighter tree.
It is now the centerpiece of the celebration, the largest in Harnett County, or at least in Buies Creek. On the evening of the lighting this November, a large crowd of students started gathering in the Academic Circle before sunset to enjoy hot chocolate, stand in line for the coveted t-shirts and mix and mingle with their classmates.
I joined them later in the evening and stayed after the lights came on for pictures and to visit with our students.
Since COVID, student participation in our traditions, rituals and celebration events has increased. Being isolated makes us realize how much we have missed being together and how important community is. We are emphasizing a sense of belonging as an essential part of the educational experience at Campbell, and traditions are a key element in cultivating and sustaining a sense of belonging.
Even with the richness that diversity adds to our community, we yearn for the connections that bring and bind us together, where what we have in common is stronger than what makes us different.
Traditions and rituals do that. Events and ceremonies like the annual Christmas tree lighting form identity and connect us to something bigger and higher than ourselves. They foster unity instead of separation, and in uncertain and unsettled times of change and trouble, ground us and provide comfort by belonging to a particular place and people.
The Christmas tree lighting points to the Good News of God’s gift of Jesus Christ, which we celebrate during this special season. Through this annual tradition at Campbell, we celebrate the love that brings us closer together and to the One who creates and sustains us as a community.