To the university community,

As we approach the end of our spring semester, I have never been more proud to be a Hokie.

A year ago we wrapped up the spring 2020 semester while still catching our breath from a rapid and unprecedented transition to remote learning and working. We had a plan in place to protect our community, maintain operations, and safely return to in-person learning. Our success depended on you — our students, parents, faculty, employees, and alumni — and the support of key partners, including the Town of Blacksburg and the New River Valley Public Health Task Force.

The journey wasn’t easy. Many lost family and friends to COVID-19. Student experiences were disrupted and traditions changed or cancelled. Racial and social inequities were inflamed. We missed opportunities to study abroad and host international students. Being unable to gather for collegiate sports and other events was a blow to our spirits and our local economy.

Yet once again we displayed the Virginia Tech spirit that sustains us through difficult times and inspires us to overcome our challenges with quiet determination. When I reflect on the past year, I feel great pride and appreciation for how our students stepped up to help our community.

Students like our COVID Crushers, who provided masks, hand sanitizer, and important information about testing, vaccines, and public health guidance; our student vaccine clinic volunteers who helped facilitate thousands of vaccinations; those who served through the medical reserve and our COVID Companions; and the many who quietly assisted us in various ways throughout the year.

I appreciate our faculty members who made efforts to transition back into classrooms and provide in-person learning experiences, researchers who continued their important work under COVID-19 guidelines, and thought leaders like Linsey Marr, whose expertise in airborne virus spread continues to be shared with the world through hundreds of interviews, thousands of quotes, and more than 40,000 Twitter followers.

And I can’t say enough about the leadership of our administrators and support staff who delivered key resources including more than 100,000 COVID tests, thoughtfully managed budgets to minimize the financial impact of the pandemic, and kept our community informed as the situation evolved. Thanks to those who provided academic and administrative/operational support to our students, faculty, and staff, ensuring our community was supported, engaged, and had the best VT experience possible. I especially want to acknowledge those who accomplished this work while also serving as caregivers for their children, parents, and other family members.

Thanks to this team effort, COVID-19 cases at Virginia Tech remain low. We are planning a fully in-person fall semester, and a series of in-person commencement experiences will begin Monday. Congratulations to the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021. We hope you enjoy your well-deserved celebrations next week, and we wish you the very best ahead. We will always be proud of the strength you’ve shown and your embodiment of Virginia Tech’s spirit.

Over the summer we will continue transitioning to more in-person experiences and learning. COVID cases in our region continue falling, and we are easing restrictions as vaccinations increase. Our ongoing student survey on Canvas indicates that over 38 percent of the student population and 38 percent of the employee population have confirmed that they have received at least one dose of a vaccine so far. Employees who haven’t taken this brief survey yet, please do so.

Vaccinations are the key and, as I said in my message last week, vaccine-based “herd immunity” will be a necessary part of full-capacity, in-person operations. Please take advantage of the widespread availability of vaccines over the spring and summer so we can come together in the fall. Vaccination is our best way to ensure we all can enjoy more freedom and the activities that connect us.

I can’t wait to see our community fill the Drillfield and the rest of our beautiful campuses and shake Lane Stadium again as we jump to "Enter Sandman." Virginia Tech athletics is coming back strong after a challenging year, launching the $400 million Reach for Excellence campaign with a vision to be championship contenders in all sports.

As we complete one of higher education’s most challenging years, your hard work and dedication made it possible for us to fulfill our land-grant mission when the community, the commonwealth, and the nation needed us most. There is much to look forward to as we develop exciting new spaces for learning, research and engagement, including the new Innovation Campus, which just yesterday announced the largest corporate commitment in the history of the university.

Take pride in what you’ve accomplished, take care of yourselves, and enjoy the summer. I’m looking forward to being together in the fall as we kick off an exciting new semester and the beginning of our sesquicentennial celebration.

Be committed. Be well. Thank you, Hokies!

Tim Sands,

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