This pandemic has forced all of us to learn and work in very different ways, no matter our age. We’ve all become both expert at Zoom and fatigued by it; we’ve spoken countless words while mistakenly on mute. But through it all, we’ve found new and sometimes surprising ways at doing what we humans have always done so well: connecting with one another to share our knowledge and thereby building bridges that collectively take us across the divides.

So many of us are lifelong learners, with this transition to the digital just the most recent step on our learning journey. Once upon a time, we mastered the Dewey Decimal system; we furtively Xeroxed chapters of exorbitantly expensive college textbooks; we connected via achingly slow 14-bit modems to this new invention of the World Wide Web to see what it might offer and ultimately teach us.

From March 2020, organizations like the one I represent, the Santa Fe Council on International Relations, quickly pivoted to the digital. Over the past year, we’ve run over 90 livestreams of journalists, diplomats, experts and academics (along the way creating one of my all-time favorite career highlights: interviewing Bob Woodward via Zoom in jacket, tie — and pajama bottoms). We’ve had thousands of people from around the world tune in to our programs — and while we do strive to make this digital sharing of knowledge a dynamic experience, we have all greatly missed the unique togetherness of our in-person gatherings.

As we’ll show at our upcoming (and yes, online!) Annual Gala on Wednesday, April 21 — with headliners Valerie Plame interviewing former FBI Director Jim Comey — this pandemic pivot to the digital now makes abundantly clear the next leap forward in the evolution of education. And the leap is an obvious one. We must now bring the best of these two worlds together, fusing the digital and the in-person.

While many of the high school students we serve with our global programming have not thrived in an all-digital world, through this time we’ve greatly expanded our reach across the state. With a hybrid model now in place for the next academic year, we’ll double the number of students we serve, with our flagship High School Fellowship Program attracting outstanding students from Deming to Farmington, whether online, in-person or both. This would not have happened without this pandemic interruption, and represents a unique and exciting opportunity to connect globally minded New Mexico students with one another and with the world beyond. This is of critical importance.

I hope you’ll join us on this journey. We lifelong learners must now help build the bridges for our next generation of leaders to thrive in this new educational landscape — and supporting our students at CIR’s livestreamed Annual Gala at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday is an excellent way to do so. These bridges allow us to pass on our essential love of learning about the world, an ingredient I argue is key to the evolution of human society.

Tickets are $75 for an individual and $125 for a household, and come with a signed copy of Comey’s latest book. More details and tickets can be found right at sfcir.org/2021-annual-gala.

Sandy Campbell is the executive director of the Santa Fe Council on International Relations.

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