Reflections on Downtown Wilkes-Barre

by Web Services

Note: This article was published in the Times Leader on Feb. 13, 2022

Reflections from a New Neighbor
Greg Cant, Wilkes University President

I made my first official visit to Wilkes-Barre in 2019 while interviewing to become the seventh president of Wilkes University. Knowing that Wilkes could be our future home, my wife Angela, our children, Eliza and Jackson, and I spent time exploring the surroundings. We were immediately taken by the beautiful architecture of the campus and community, the shops and restaurants within walking distance, the long-standing spirit of entrepreneurialism and the plethora of outdoor opportunities in this beautiful region. It didn’t take long for us to realize that Wilkes, and northeast Pennsylvania was where we wanted to be.

By the time we officially moved into the President’s House on the Wilkes campus in May 2020, it was in the midst of the global pandemic. Like the rest of the world, the vibrant city we experienced just six months prior was essentially a ghost town.  New safety measures left the Wilkes campus devoid of most students and employees. I will be forever grateful to the dedicated professionals in facilities, public safety and food services who continued to support our campus and offered a friendly welcome during this difficult time.

Needless to say, it was an interesting time to join a new community and a new campus.  Angela and I explored our new home on foot and by bicycle, taking daily walks through downtown Wilkes-Barre and cycling along the River Common and beyond. Despite the quieter than normal streets, we fell in love with our new neighborhood and the uniqueness of downtown living. We marveled at the grand scale and beauty of the downtown buildings and envisioned the great potential for a vibrant downtown.

Though I have been working at American higher education institutions for over 20 years, my wife and I are native Australians. We were born and raised in Australia and went on to live, learn or work in England, China and Canada before settling in the U.S. We have lived on both coasts, in five states, each with their own unique qualities and characteristics.

It is with this perspective that I can confidently say that Wilkes-Barre is a special place.

I was quick to learn that our community has faced great moments of challenge throughout its rich history. Whether it was the collapse of the anthracite coal industry, the devastation of the 1972 Hurricane Agnes Flood or the numerous economic downturns, Wilkes-Barre has endured. The last two years have challenged us all but we have demonstrated an amazing capacity to reimagine ourselves. This history of resilience gives me great confidence in our community’s capacity to continue to grow and strengthen.

In December, you may have read the words of Ian Allison, an environmental engineering student at Wilkes who will graduate this May. Reflecting on his four years at Wilkes soon coming to an end, Ian wrote, “Education is important, but equally important is the community you join and the connections you make.”

We couldn’t agree more.

The future of Wilkes University is entwined with the future of downtown. We will continue to develop relationships with private and public organizations, and work towards creating a vibrant downtown that attracts students and business to the region. We will continue to be a cultural, intellectual and economic resource, offering free lectures and events that draw the community  downtown. We will continue to attract the brightest minds to the area and retain their talents long after graduation. And we will continue to navigate the global pandemic, by deploying our nursing and pharmacy students to help the Wilkes-Barre Health Department offer free vaccination clinics on campus.

Wilkes was founded in the heart of downtown Wilkes-Barre in 1933 to serve the educational needs of Luzerne County residents. Over time, our institution has grown in size and scope, but our commitment to community remains steadfast.  Our urban campus, mansion-style housing and walkability to downtown restaurants and businesses are a distinguishing benefit of the Wilkes experience. I am personally committed to working with community leaders to ensure our best days are ahead of us.

I extend my thanks for welcoming my family so warmly to Wilkes-Barre. Angela and I look forward to seeing you downtown soon.  

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