For the first time, all 31,000 of our graduates worldwide are simultaneously affected by one common denominator: COVID-19. It has impacted the way we work, play, and live. These experiences remind us of our basic needs, where we come from, and where we are going.
Growing up in a 100-person town in northeastern Montana, I knew social isolation well. It wasn’t the same as the social distancing we’re all currently implementing, by any means. However, we had to survive when we were surrounded by nothing but wheat fields and dirt roads. We brought food to the homebound and plowed each other out so we could get to work and school. Families opened their homes to the stranded when the roads were impassable. Neighbors simply helped neighbors.
Our town’s small, family-owned grocery store closed when I was in elementary school. The next option was 42 miles roundtrip, so my family always made our shopping trips count. Needless to say, I was raised to know how to stock up on necessities. So, this latest COVID-19 craze of buying in bulk is nothing new to me. I’ve always had toilet paper on my shopping list!
When I was 18, I moved to Billings to become a Yellowjacket, but my rural roots followed me wherever I went. As I adjusted to my new surroundings, I felt the strength and the support of my university; it guided me into who I am today.
Whether we attended Eastern Montana State Normal School, Eastern Montana College of Education, Eastern Montana College, or Montana State University Billings, we all grew in some way through our experiences as Yellowjackets. And when we are recovering from the impacts of COVID-19, it will be up to us how we want our lives – and our alma mater – to look.
Maybe we will have encouraged a young neighbor to enroll at MSU Billings. Or we helped our fellow alumni regroup and find employment. Perhaps we supported alumni-owned businesses or offered an internship to a new grad. What will you do to affect positive change for your university in the wake of this global tragedy?
The Yellowjacket way
As I reflect on the similarities this unusual time has with my upbringing, the fact that we are bringing our focus back to the basics comforts me. We’re watching out for our neighbors. We’re empathetic of others. And we’re finding a new normal – together – no matter where we live. My fellow alumni, I have nothing but the utmost confidence that we will band together to create an even stronger community for our alma mater once this pandemic has passed. After all, it’s the Yellowjacket way.
Gillette Vaira, M.A.
Director of Alumni Relations
MSU Billings Class of 2009
(406) 247-5781 | firstname.lastname@example.org
This letter to alumni from Gillette Vaira appeared in the April 2020 issue of the Alumni Flyer e-newsletter.