'The world absolutely needs you:' University president's message to class of 2020

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Visit the University of Houston campus and it feels strange. Empty. There's no vibrancy and energy that normally permeates a college campus. It is eerily quiet.

And that word -- normal. It won't have the same meaning after we've worked through COVID-19, at least, not in higher education.

"We are being forced to experiment with technology in ways that we have never done before," said University of Houston President Renu Khator.

She spoke with ABC13 via Zoom, saying, "As crazy as the times are this could be the perfect time to retool yourself, to make sure you get advanced training, because when we come out of it, Houston is going to need you. "

ABC13 also interviewed David Leebron, the president of Rice University. He spoke with us via Zoom and he, too, sees systemic changes in higher education moving forward. There are the 'now' problems -- graduation, providing classes, ensuring safety -- and there are the longer-term issues.

"It's not as though we can say two months from now it will be this way and we can plan for that," Leebron said. "It's all the different ways we need to plan for all of the different things that might happen."

It's true colleges large and small, private and public, have their challenges. How much of what they offer will remain online? Will students still come and pay tuition or room and board? Of course, so much of this is in flux.

But both schools offer substantial help for those who qualify. They don't want students to give up on their dreams. Both presidents have messages that apply for incoming freshmen and those graduating seniors graduating entering a brave new world.

"You've already demonstrated already what you can contribute to this world and the world absolutely needs you," Leebron said. "The class of 2020 is going to be one of truly extraordinary classes, just the persistence they've demonstrated and their willingness to overcome the obstacles they face."

"Never ever negotiate with your dreams, with your goals," offered Khator. "Your goals are your goals. You will have to just find different ways of reaching there and this the time for doing that. "

Both schools envision having students on campus in the fall, but with a greater component of online coursework. Of course, those plans could change at any moment. Like everyone, colleges and universities are having to adapt.

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