Hurricane Sandy and Sandy Hook: Considerations for a New Year

January 24, 2013

Someone once told me a story about a little boy who was crying because he had no shoes…and then he met a little boy who had no feet.

For many of us, the final two months of 2012 have registered an assortment of difficult memories, scattered emotions, and quiet reflections. Many of these memories are of a storm that left so many of us managing without basic needs or the everyday accoutrements we often take for granted. For those affected, the experience of temporarily losing power, heat, and light, even for a couple of days, sparked a greater sense of appreciation and empathy for those swimming in the indiscriminate tide of devastation. As I write this message, many families and students still have not found comfort or stability after Hurricane Sandy, remaining adrift both physically and mentally.

Deep and raw emotions were also provoked by the tragic deaths of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Few of us can adequately make sense of what took place and why. While we are accustomed to dealing with the daily stresses of self and work, nothing could have prepared us for the incomprehensible loss of so many young lives and their educators in the manner reported. Alongside the immense trauma has come a violent shaking of our collective psyche and sense of community. More disconcerting for the CUNY community is the fact that this tragedy took place in an educational setting not too different from our own.

So where do we go from here? What lies ahead for 2013?

I have always believed that our work at CUNY is rife with possibilities. For my entire career I have embraced and been moved by the brilliance, innovation, creativity, aspirations, and dreams of students. Without a doubt, the last two months will stir varying degrees of contemplation within our students, but these events cannot stifle or consume them. Instead, this University, with its knowledge and talent both inside and outside the classroom, should engage in solution-finding with our students. Solution-finding that will bring strength in taking the necessary steps forward, inspiration to reimagine the world they want to live in and empowerment to change it.

As we reflect on this past year, let us excel in what we do best as a leading University, ask questions and seek answers. Have our students ask questions and identify strategies on how we can respond more effectively to our neighbors in times of need. Have students discern how to provide effective support systems for those physically, mentally, emotionally and educationally disadvantaged. Brainstorm with our students about what kind of future and quality of life they want for themselves, their families and their communities and how do they get there. I am certain we can find ways to involve the talented minds and deep ambitions of our students while creating a better society for all of us.

This New Year provides CUNY a tremendous opportunity to leverage the best of our learning enterprise as we try to find meaning, understanding and hope from this past year. I am convinced that among our 270,000 degree-seeking students there exists thousands of innovative, pioneering and, perhaps, trendsetting ideas designed to advance, heal and encourage us all. The reality is that so many of our CUNY students have limited means and opportunities—neither shoes nor feet—yet they succeed and improve our world every day. It is because of this spirit of learning, I am confident 2013 will bring an even greater level of connection, ingenuity and success among our extraordinary, resilient and remarkable student body.

Happy New Year and much success to you and your students.

Frank D. Sanchez, Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs