We are entering the holiday season, which is a time for gatherings and reflection as the year ends. I am certain we can agree 2020 is a year we are grateful is near its conclusion. None of us, in our most imaginative nightmares, could have predicted how it unfolded.

Given the many ways the coronavirus (COVID-19) changed our daily lives through challenges and hardship for many, it may be more difficult to find reasons for thanksgiving. I recognize this fact, even as a card-carrying optimist. And yet, as I look back on what has been accomplished at Illinois State, I find many reasons to be grateful.

I am most appreciative for the faculty and staff who worked to exhaustion fashioning a substantive university experience. I offer my sincere thanks for their selfless service while keeping the health, safety, and well-being of our campus and greater community a highest priority.

I have witnessed COVID-19 produce quiet heroes within the campus community and among alumni, many of whom have been on the front lines fighting the virus. National health care leader Mark Pelletier ’81, whose story is in this issue of State, gained a strong foundation at the University as he began his preparation to meet such a professional challenge.

Another indicator of our stability and success is the fact that students voted with their feet and chose ISU, despite the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. Our fall enrollment is 20,720, which is less than one percent lower than last year’s total. We continue to admit high school graduates who are stellar in the classroom. Read more about the numbers in the news section.

We also celebrate in this issue the end of a successful fundraising initiative. Redbirds Rising: The Campaign for Illinois State is the largest fundraising campaign in university history and concluded with nearly $181 million raised to advance scholarship, leadership, and innovation. The total exceeds the goal by nearly $30 million thanks to more than 56,000 individuals who contributed.

The University’s success is noted with rankings such as the Washington Monthly, which places Illinois State among the nation’s top 100 public universities based on our contribution to the public good. ISU has also been named a 2020 Best Bang for the Buck university in the Midwest. Criteria for selection includes how well an institution helps non-wealthy students obtain marketable degrees at affordable prices.

These accomplishments demonstrate that Redbirds continued to rise in 2020, despite the ongoing health crisis and chaos it created throughout the year. I am truly grateful. My mind and my heart are filled with the pleasure, privilege, and thanksgiving for the honor of serving you.