OPINION | Be Brave: A professor's letter to her students

Part of the campus at Stellenbosch University.
Part of the campus at Stellenbosch University.
Photo: Getty Images

Professor Lizette Rabe has been sending letters of encouragement to her students during the Covid-19 pandemic. Here is one of her letters as students prepare for the second semester. 


Dear students

Those of you who were fortunate enough to have received that invitation – surely one of the best invitations one can ever receive – means you are now doing your one-week self-isolation to enable you to start with classes coming Monday.

Those of you who did not receive the invitation to return to campus, please know: It will come, and hopefully sooner than later.  

Who would have thought, one year ago, that the second semester of 2020 would start this way? That you would complete your first semester online, thanks to your dedicated lecturers and departments, plus your own iron-will and self-discipline to work remotely in difficult circumstances?

While missing out on those things that make student life unique: The interaction with fellow-students, all of you on the threshold of your dreams. All those social and sporting activities. Not to forget Klein Saterdagaand. Yes, we miss, and mourn, those things that we took for granted.

But if we all work together, they will be yours to enjoy again, and hopefully sooner than we think.

Virtual existence

And now it is the beginning of 2020's second semester. Usually, on our campus, everything is abuzz – literally – with preparations for Ser. And what beautiful noise you and your fellow-students used to make during the Ser competition.

Now, life has shrunk to a virtual existence. We live behind our computers, and ironically, it is the only place where we can see one another without a mask. In real life, we need to be the Masked Wonders.

Also, July and August are traditionally the election months when you would have chosen your new campus leaders for the next academic term of 2020-2021, ready for the handover before seriously starting with that 24/7 swotting for the year-end exams.

And now? Yes, the elections still have to take place. Or rather: They are of the utmost importance right now.

Because what is needed now is leadership. From committee and association level to the HKs, the prims and the SRC.

So please think it through: Might you be one of the out-of-the-box thinkers that we need for the so important 2020-2021 term? Should you not make yourself available for one of the positions that will be up for election? So that you can contribute to our campus, our community, and our country? So that all of us can land on our feet, ready for all the opportunities that arise from this world-changing crisis we are experiencing?

Those of you who do Philosophy would know what the "categorical imperative", according to philosopher Immanuel Kant, is. Yes, he of the "Four Questions" that are still regarded as foundational for thinking about who and what we are. Known as the Kantian Questions, they are:

What can I know?

What should I do?

What may I hope for? and lastly,

What is the human being?

Granted, Kant is a (prehistoric) philosopher from the 18th century. And we are living in the 21st century. And we are suffering from a global pandemic with an immeasurably tragic human and financial toll. But those questions are still as relevant as ever. Maybe even more.

And that thing called the "categorical imperative"? Put simply, it is a rule of conduct that should apply to all. Unconditionally, without any ifs, ands, or buts. It boils down to always acting according to maxims that can be regarded as becoming universal laws. In a typical Kantian formula: "So act as to treat humanity ... always as an end and never as only a means."

So, maybe you can act now to decide to also contribute to campus leadership for the 2020/2021 term and make yourself available for election, on whichever level you feel you can contribute.

Yes, it is a difficult and uncertain time, but maybe it is time that you believe in yourself, and in how you can provide leadership and contribute to help build a new future for all. To make a difference. Importantly, to #Build Back Better.

The new normals 

And while you are contemplating your next step(s), remember to stick to the New Normal's basic rules of conduct. Such as: We are in this together, but keep your distance. And clean your hands regularly, whether by washing with soap and water, or using a disinfectant gel or spray. And please remember to be that Masked Wonder.

Besides looking after your physical health, please also look after your mental health. There already is sufficient evidence that we all suffer from the mental fall-out of Covid-19. Take care of yourself with a balanced diet and enough exercise, but please no team sports where there is physical contact; any "bondelsports" are just too risky.

Remain hopeful, because indeed: This too shall pass.

Most of all, be #Brave. Our campus needs you. Our community needs you. And certainly, our country needs young, innovative minds. Make a difference. Be #Brave.

-Lizette Rabe is a professor at Stellenbosch University (SU) and academic principal of the postgraduate cluster consisting of residences and private student accommodation called Senior Living Spaces (SLS) at SU.


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