President Connie Book opened the academic year on August 12, awarding Charles E. Kernodle Jr. the Elon Medallion, discussing Elon’s efforts to reduce bias and racism on campus and the university’s plans for the fall.

This year’s opening ceremonies took place online due to COVID-19 restrictions. Despite the new setup, the ceremonies were able to keep some traditions alive, including ringing in the new academic year by ringing the Graham Bell, which was done by Student Government Association Executive President Robbie Miley.

The Elon Medallion was also awarded during the opening ceremonies to 103 year-old Elon alumnus Kernodle ‘38, who represented his class at Book’s inauguration in 2018. The medallion is awarded at the discretion of the president, and it is the highest honor one can be awarded for service to the university. Book said Kernodle has “left an indelible mark on the university and Alamance County communities.”

Kernodle, who graduated from Elon and received his medical degree at Duke University, served as a United States chief army surgeon in World War II, and came back to Burlington following his service to establish the Kernodle Clinic. In January, Kernodle was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in recognition for his time as a football coach at Williams High School in Burlington. Kernodle said he was “very humbled” to receive the award.

“Elon has done so much for so many, and especially our family,” Kernodle said. 

Following the presentation of the Elon medallion, Book welcomed students to the 2020-21 academic year, reminding students that the same challenges they are facing, such as watching the opening ceremonies on a laptop computer rather than in person, can also be opportunities. 

“Challenge and opportunity can be one in the same,” Book said. “A duality that raises questions about the next right thing for Elon.”

In her address, Book said the research “is clear” that face-to-face learning, in the capacity Elon intends for the fall, is the “most powerful” choice. Book said she has received many questions regarding Elon’s plans for reopening and the fall semester, but why the university chooses to reopen has been the most common question she has been asked. 

“We must open,” Book said. “If we can meet the standards to do that safely face to face, we should.”

This summer, Book said the toll the coronavirus took on the lives of Black and Latinx communities gave many Americans “a front seat view of health and equity,” which was an understanding Book credited to playing a part in the country and Elon’s “outcry” over injustice. 

“This has accelerated our efforts and our goals in diversity, equity and inclusion,” Book said. “Are we doing everything we can? And the answer was, and clearly is, no.”

Book recently announced the university’s first five action steps towards a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus community, which aligned with the vision the university has for the “thrive” section of the strategic plan, Boldly Elon.

“These goals are critical to being the university we desire to be. These goals are critical to ensuring that each member of our community thrives here,” Book said. “These goals are critical to the rejection of bias and racism that exists on our campus and in our country.”

This summer Elon hosted the inaugural N.C. Local News Workshop intern program, an initiative that works to build local news capacity and resources. Book said the initiative is a “critical and important resource for North Carolinians” heading into the election. 

Additionally, the Kernodle Center was renamed the Kernodle Center for Civic Life, and students at the university are leading an initiative for voter engagement in the fall. Book said the university also collaborated with the Alamance County Health Department this summer, as well as supported local businesses for the advancement of the Elon partners program.

“We need to leave behind an Elon where COVID-19 doesn't exist. We need to leave behind any thought that we just need to get through this and then it will be over,” Book said. “COVID-19 is here to stay, and it will be a great influence on who we become.”