I returned late last night from Atlanta, Georgia where I had attended the NCAA National Convention. I left Vermont early Wednesday morning when the news from Haiti was first starting to come in. The initial reports were that there had been a 7.0 earthquake but little information at that time. As things unfolded in Haiti I followed as much as possible while also attending the many meetings and workshops which took me to Atlanta in the first place. I serve as the College's Faculty Athletic Representative and am the liaison between academics and athletics. Our Athletic Director, Geri Knortz and I have attended the past few NCAA Conventions together and it is always good to renew friendships with colleagues from across the country who also work so closely with athletic programs and student-athletes. I would try to catch up on what was unfolding in Haiti as Saint Michael's College has had a long and positive history with that country and its people. A number of my colleagues from here are either FROM Haiti or have visited Haiti over the years so it was difficult to be so far away from here while things were being reported from Haiti. The devastation is almost too horrific for us to comprehend but knowing that friends and colleagues have family members there who are unaccounted for makes everything so personal. One workshop I attended was on academic support systems for student-athletes and as I read the bio's of the presenters I saw that one man - Jim Pignataro, was from Michigan State University so I went up to introduce myself to him as an alum of that fine institution. Much to my surprise (and his) when I said that I was from Saint Michael's College he told me that he is the brother-in-law to my friend and colleague Moise St. Louis who is not only our Director of Multicultural Student Affairs/Assistant Dean but also someone FROM Haiti. I was able to find out directly from Jim about some of the latest information about Haiti. My brother-in-law is the Global Managing Partner for Human Resources/Talent Management for Deloitte Touche and someone who has many resources which have helped us here at SMC over the years during times such as this. Jim kept me informed of the latest security briefings and I was able to forward those to my friends here on campus who are connected to friends in Haiti. I will attach our President's comments to the community at the end of this posting on my blog. We can donate money AND provide our prayers as we continue to support those more directly impacted than we are. This also is such a stark reminder of just how fragile life can be and the reality that it is so important that we make sure that those we love KNOW it - NOW..............
Classes began last Monday and I left on Wednesday so I am looking forward to re-connecting with my students tomorrow. We will be talking about Haiti AND, of course, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Some have complained that Saint Michael's College should join so many others and not have classes on this day in memory and tribute to Dr. King. Our philosophy is that it is important for us, as an educational institution, to have classes and all faculty are encouraged to use this as a time to remember and recall the struggles that too many people today take for granted. A recent Burlington Free Press article featured a front page story on the Society of Saint Edmund (the founding fathers of Saint Michael's College) and how the priests had worked so tirelessly in the South to bring peace and justice AND voting rights to those who were disenfranchised. The picture that accompanied the article was of Fr. Maurice Ouellet, SSE, as he was on a playground at an iron jungle gym reaching up to help little black children climbing on that piece of fun equipment - that picture tells so much about Fr. Ouellet (he hired me here and is someone I have such great admiration and respect for) as he was always reaching out to help others. There is always an afternoon convocation on campus with a featured speaker and talks by our students so instead of canceling classes and providing our students with an opportunity to "hit the slopes" we provide an educational opportunity - I think we make the better choice.
Several times during my travels to Atlanta, as I sat in airports in Burlington, Washington and Atlanta, members of our armed services walked by. When there was eye contact, I just gave a nod of thanks and they returned with a smile and a nod back. On one flight our attendant mentioned that several members of the military were with us who were being deployed to Afghanistan and the plane erupted in applause for our soldiers. As always, please remember the military and their families AND the people of Haiti in your thoughts and prayers. Here is the response from President Jack Neuhauser to our community in response to the tragedy in Haiti:
take care and be well
January 15, 2010
TO: The Saint Michael’s College Community
FROM: John J. Neuhauser
RE: Haiti disaster
This week’s disaster in Haiti has affected many members of the Saint Michael’s community in a personal and profound manner, as family members and close friends have been lost. A number of individuals served as host families for a group of Haitian students who were with us in the fall, and many others have personal friendships with Haitian people, including faculty members and students, that go back years.
Indeed, the College’s solidarity with Haitiwas affirmed in 1994 with a weeklong observance in which our community expressed its support for the people of Haiti, who were calling for the return of their democratically elected president. The main event of the week was an address by then-exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who received an honorary degree. Haiti Solidarity Week became an annual observance, bringing Haitian scholars, activists, writers and artists to campus, especially benefiting students involved in related MOVE service trips to several communities in Haiti and a service-learning course in 2002. One of the invited speakers, Michelle Pierre-Louis, hosted our students during their 2002 trip, and the Student Association asked to invite her to return as commencement speaker in 2004, the year in which Saint Michael's College was celebrating its centennial and Haiti its bicentennial. Michelle Pierre-Louis waslater Prime Minister of Haiti (from 2008 to 2009). Sadly, Visiting Scholars Georges and Mireille Anglade, who became members of our community for the spring semester in 2001, have died in the earthquake.
It is important that each member of our community have a chance to respond in their own manner, including prayer, reflection and/or providing monetary and physical resources and even labor, at a time when this might be possible. The initial need centers on financial support. To expedite this process, I suggest that those who wish to contribute do so directly through Catholic Relief Services (http://crs.org/) or the International Red Cross (http://www.icrc.org/eng), as these organizations have the ability to see that resources are quickly and appropriately brought to bear. Campus Ministry has already gathered some funds, and will continue to do so today and through a special collection at the masses on Sunday, January 24.
The College will also be developing a response that will allow members of the community to provide tangible and specific help to an educational organization, such as a school. It will take some time to work with partners in Haiti to learn where our efforts directed at reconstruction might best be applied. I believe it important that we develop an opportunity that involves students, faculty and staff directly, in keeping with the volunteer culture which so distinguishes Saint Michael’s. Plans for this venture are just beginning, but you should expect to hear more in the days ahead.
It is unfortunate that tragedy once again reminds us that in small things, we may differ, but in the large things, we are all much the same. Please continue to pray and offer comfort as you are able.