The Year that Really was a First
It is said that “all you need to do to make the gods laugh is to tell them your plans”. If that is true, then they must be convulsed with laughter on Olympus. On election in 2019 I made all kinds of plans to meet everyone in College in my first two terms and looked forward to the meetings and formal dinners, student societies and evening talks, sports events and reunions. COVID-19 put a stop to almost all of that. Apart from a few scaled-down events in the first half of Michaelmas, life has had to be lived online and any real world conversation has taken place from behind masks – a challenge to my hearing and my ability to recognize half of a face.
Moreover, there has been the knowledge that students, staff and Fellows have faced great difficulties and, in many cases, real hardship during the months in which any form of normal social contact has been prohibited. COVID-19 restrictions have not been the only occasion for sadness. The deaths of Professor John Field (1964) and Dr Richard Luckett (1978) have robbed us of two Fellows of great distinction with decades of service to Magdalene, who were also personal friends from my days as a Fellow.
Yet, in spite of everything, what really matters is that Magdalene has survived, even triumphed. It has been a source of real pride to see how many students have made the best of the circumstances forced upon them, how well they have coped with the stress and loneliness of the lockdown and the disappointment of missing out on so much of Cambridge life. Our staff have kept the College going, whether juggling working from home with home-schooling young children, or coping with the unprecedented demands made of those who soldiered on in College. The whole Fellowship has worked ceaselessly to maintain standards of teaching, of pastoral care and of good governance. Alumni and Fellows have responded with characteristic generosity to an appeal for donations to help meet the greatly increased demands on bursary and hardship funds.
The restrictions imposed because of COVID-19 have also brought about some remarkable innovations as everyone sought to adapt to the new circumstances. The development by one Fellow of online classes in dissection for her medical students has proved a great success. The Development Office has arranged numerous online events which have been enjoyed by audiences from several continents, enabling us to reach a much wider group of alumni and friends than could attend in person functions. The outdoor celebration of Easter has been just one instance of the life of the Chapel being maintained despite the lockdown.
While we have so far been unable to hold the long awaited formal opening of our magnificent New Library, the building is now open to students with whom it has been a great success. Not only a wonderful resource, it has added to the physical beauty of the College and is a building of which we, and future generations, can justifiably be proud. Meanwhile both our library and the University libraries have responded to the fact that many students could not return to Cambridge by a massive expansion of online facilities and other aids to remote learning. Just as the building has been praised (by the Times’ architecture correspondent) for its harmony with the Pepys Building, so the services offered there combine the traditional library with meeting new needs.
The first year has not been anything like what we expected but Sue and I are delighted to be back at Magdalene. The Lodge has become home for us both and we look forward to the day – not far off, I hope – when it can again be an integral part of the welcome which Magdalene extends to all of our community.
Sir Christopher Greenwood, Master
This article was first published in Magdalene Matters Spring/Summer 2021 Issue 51.