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Spring is here, Bobcats, and we are at the conclusion of an academic year like no other in the last hundred springs.

We inaugurated this year in early August, treading into the new and ever-changing territory of a pandemic where innovation and flexibility were daily necessities. It was a time of uncertainty and anxiety for all of us.

And yet, on the morning of the first day of classes, I heard the roar of our heating plant’s steam whistle and knew then that everything was going to be well.

The tradition of blowing the campus whistle at the start and the end of each semester is one of the many things I love about Montana State University. The details about the installation of the massive railroad whistle atop the campus heating plant building are lost to us. However, in the 1940s and 1950s it was sounded daily at 6:30 a.m. to wake students and at 7:50 a.m. to signal the start of classes. In 1978, regular use of the whistle ceased.

In 1994, then-MSU President Mike Malone returned the whistle to its rightful role as a herald of the first day of classes and of the accomplishment of commencement.

And so, last August when I heard the steam whistle sound at 8 a.m. to announce that classes at MSU were in session, it filled me with emotion: To me, it was a signal of endurance, courage and hope.

What a year it has been! When we opened our doors last fall, your university had experienced a record student enrollment in the summer and we would see a record number of degrees awarded at the conclusion of the semester. Our students shined and made us proud: Jessica Brito was named a Newman Civic Fellow, a national award given for campus leaders committed to finding solutions for challenges. Laina Hall, Pushya Krishna, Elliott Pryor and Matthew Thompson each earned the Goldwater Scholarship, which is among the most prestigious for undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and math. It is the third year in a row that four MSU students — the most any institution may nominate annually — received the honor. Our graduate students and alumni Cayley Faurot-Daniels, Kendall Edmo, Cailin Casey, Leidy Hooker, Miles Maxcer and RyeAnne Ricker received Graduate Research Fellowships this year from the National Science Foundation.

MSU faculty members registered impressive achievements. Among others, professor Dana Longcope won the Arctowski medal for his contributions to the study of solar physics; professor Gregory Francis will receive the Millikan Medal for his accomplishments in teaching physics; professors Bryce Hughes in education and Brittany Fasy in computer science both won NSF CAREER Awards; professor Chere LeClair was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects; and music professor Greg Young was recognized for his decades of service mentoring undergraduate student researchers.

Our research enterprise hit $167 million and, thanks to the work of our faculty, students and staff, MSU is now listed in the top 100 universities in the most recent NSF Higher Education Research and Development Survey, with a 93rd ranking among all public universities.

After being selected by the state of Montana to help with COVID-19 testing in the fall, in the spring your university partnered with the county in dispensing thousands of doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Numerous MSU health care professionals have been working alongside faculty and students from our College of Nursing, Gallatin College MSU, medical education programs and Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department to vaccinate our community.

Our student-athletes made us proud with their performances. Among many remarkable efforts, our men’s basketball team played its first Big Sky Conference championship game since 2009, with the team’s best win percentage since 2001-2002. And how excited we were to announce that Brent Vigen has become MSU’s 33rd head football coach!

Just as we conclude this semester, Walter Isaacson’s most recent book, “The Code Breaker,” highlights the job of our very own professor of microbiology Blake Wiedenheft and his role in supporting Jennifer Doudna’s work in CRISPR gene-editing, which resulted in her 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry. A great read!

And so, here we are. Today, commencement will be celebrated for the first time in Bobcat Stadium. This cherished event is always a milestone in the life of a university, particularly this year.

This morning, as our Class of 2021 gets ready to leave their alma mater to start the new adventures that await them, Montana State University will tip its hat to its graduates with a simple gesture bookending our year: three whistle blasts. One for endurance. One for courage. And one for hope.

With heartfelt appreciation for your support over this unprecedented year, we wish you a restful summer as we chant, at the top of our lungs, Go, ‘Cats, Go!

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Waded Cruzado is the president of Montana State University.

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