After a brief deluge on a recent weekday evening, the skies cleared, the temperature dropped and our thoughts turned to sitting outdoors and having a beer at the newly reopened Valhalla. Shuttered completely for the past 15 months, Rice’s graduate student pub has been missed by regular patrons and campus visitors alike. The Valhalla team had maintained the space all year, cleaning draft beer lines and dealing with “the occasional keg leak,” said Joey Neale, a Ph.D. student in ecology and evolutionary biology and the pub’s personnel manager. “We wanted to make sure we had an approved plan in place so we could hit the ground running once we got the go-ahead.” After a final deep clean and restocking of supplies, the red light switched on. “Everyone who’s come by has been ecstatic and relieved to finally have their old hangout spot back,” Neale said. “It was clear people were eager to return!”

In this issue, produced during a time of rapidly changing COVID-19 protocols on our campus and in our world, we changed up our summer theme routine (again!). What felt right to our team was to continue to document the ways our campus community was inching toward a post-pandemic future. The issue centers around a package of stories, interviews, brief quotes and testimonies that consider the paradoxical changes wrought by the pandemic. Faculty, staff and alumni offer a glimpse of their worlds during the past 15 months. They answer, “What changed? Which of these changes will — or should — stick around?” In their witnessing, we heard one constant: The value of presence was brought into sharp relief. 

June brought the return of another beloved campus gathering place — Rice Coffeehouse. Chaus, which had been operating as an online-ordering venue since September 2020, opened for in-person ordering at 75% capacity in its Rice Memorial Center location. For the 60 student baristas hired during the pandemic, interacting with customers in a face-to-face manner has been an added joy. “I was super excited to reopen in person,” said general manager Miguel Luna ’22, who’s also doing research this summer and working as a tour guide. “Our very first customer was my O-Week mom!” (See the Polaroid capture online.)

Hats off to the students, staff and campus administrators who have steered us cautiously, creatively and exuberantly to gather together, face-to-face, in these special campus hangouts. We look forward to seeing you.   

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