HMI Semester Update: COVID-19; March 14, 2020

March 14, 2020
A message for current families

Dear HMI Semester 44 Community,

Another day, another series of extraordinary events. More than ever, today I understand what Abraham Lincoln meant when he admitted, “I confess that I do not control events, but rather events control me.” 

Yesterday evening, Lake County’s Department of Public Health issued an order prohibiting congregations of groups of 50 or more people. This includes the High Mountain Institute. I am so sad to tell you our students will need to leave HMI on Sunday; we will begin with online learning on Tuesday, and our current hope is to resume our regular schedule on Sunday, April 12.

The emotions I feel right now juxtapose with the joy I saw in students when buses returned to campus yesterday afternoon. Our students feel happy, accomplished, confident, and tired. They achieved something almost singular in the United States: they thrived while camping in the winter under in feet of snow. Few people in our country can say they have done this, nevermind in the style of Semester 44. I cannot wait for you to hear more stories from the expedition.

Lake County’s decision conforms with counties across Colorado. Boarding schools in our state are also moving to online learning through mid-April; every public school district in our region is closing for an extended period as well. Other members of the Semester School Network are making similar decisions today.

We will tell students this news at brunch at 10:00 mountain time and students will spend today doing laundry, packing, and preparing to depart. Please schedule a flight for your child on Sunday between 11:30 and 6:00pm from the Denver airport. As I am sure you know, airlines are waiving change fees at this time, so our hope is that making this last-minute flight change is not a substantial financial burden. If we do not see your child’s flight information come to us by 12:00 mountain time today, we will call to confirm you have received this email. 

I deeply hope we will be able to welcome back students on April 12, though, as you all know, this is by no means certain. At this time, students do not need to pack everything they have here, but we will ask them to organize the remainder of their luggage in their cabins, so we can easily ship personal belongings if students are unable to return to HMI this semester. Amy Roberts will send another email soon with information about our plans for on-line learning and other details.

I love to feel I am in control of events. Today is a challenge for me. But I also seek to meet disappointment with grace, to remember it is my responsibility to look for the joy that is all around us. We believe at HMI that every moment can be a learning moment: we have in front of us now the opportunity to help Semester 44 learn to manage disappointment, live with ambiguity, and recognize all we have to be thankful for in a time when many are scared and hurting tremendously.

You will have many questions I have not addressed in this email. I hope Amy’s communication later today will answer many of them, but please let me know as always what other information will be helpful to you at this time.

There are implications to this news that are obvious to us now; some others will uncover themselves in the coming days. Our task is to support you and the students of Semester 44 as we work through them together. I will miss having your children at HMI in person, but am comforted to know their HMI intellectual journeys will continue. And we will be so thrilled to welcome them home to campus in April!

With appreciation for your partnership and understanding,


P.S. We are sharing this information with you before we tell Semester 44 so you can begin planning and are not surprised when you hear from your children later today, after they have had what I hope was a great night’s sleep. Thank you for giving us the time and space to share this news with students this morning at 10:00 mountain.

Daniel O’Brien

Head of School

High Mountain Institute