Quinnipiac comes together to heal and remember

March 16, 2021

Student signs wall of hope

The wind was cold and cutting Monday at Quinnipiac’s Day of Hope and Remembrance. But even then, it was no match for the grace of those who reflected on a year of profound loss.

Together, members of the Quinnipiac community mourned the loved ones who still inspire us. Together, wrapped in scarves and solidarity, they acknowledged the isolation, the anxiety and the fatigue levied by COVID-19.

But these same people — students, faculty and staff — also looked ahead with optimism, courage and a renewal of spirit.

To mark the one-year anniversary of Quinnipiac’s decision to keep students home for the rest of the 2020 spring semester, the Bobcats gathered as a community for the first time since the global pandemic began. And it was deeply cathartic.

“What’s been lost is really unfathomable — so many lives, and so many families and futures broken,” President Judy D. Olian told those gathered on the quad and watching online. “We owe it to them and ourselves to pause and contemplate these indescribable losses.”

Comfort awaits in moments like these, Olian explained, a slow, careful return to the future.

“We will continue, as time passes, to reinvigorate our bonds as a community as we’re doing now and in the months ahead,” Olian said. “We’re stronger for all we have experienced and overcome in the last year.”

For Don C. Sawyer III, vice president for equity and inclusion, the world changed forever last Dec. 13.

“I received a call that I will never forget. My mother called me to let me know my father had passed away due to complications from COVID,” Sawyer said. “My father received a positive result on a Wednesday, and he was gone on that Sunday."

“I wasn’t prepared for the news, and needless to say, I was shocked. I was confused. I was sad. But I was not alone,” Sawyer said. “So many people from my QU family reached out to ensure that I was doing well.”

First came the text messages. Then came the cards, the gift certificates for food and the special packages of sweet treats.

“One of the many things that I learned from my father is being in the service of others and always seeing people through the lens of possibility,” Sawyer said. “That is how I see our future here at the institution. I view our lives and our steps forward through the lens of possibility.”

Sophia Marshall, president of the Student Government Association, embodies that possibility. Before her remarks, she asked everyone to observe a moment of silence for those lost during the pandemic.

“To me, this event symbolizes the light at the end of the tunnel, a statement of our resilience as a community and as students,” Marshall said. “We haven’t made it yet, but slowly and surely, we’re getting there.”

Father Jordan Lenaghan, executive director of University Religious Life, spoke of Quinnipiac’s hopeful response to overcoming the pandemic.

“There were moments that were bleak. There were moments that were frustrating,” Lenaghan said. “There were moments when we had to make choices for which the consequences were unknown and the outcomes were uncertain, but we did it. I see now the decisions we made — no matter how challenging — were always tinged with hope.”

Iddrisu Awudu, Quinnipiac’s Muslim chaplain and associate professor of management, recited texts from the Quran to mark the day.

“Some of the lessons we learned during this pandemic are to always make sure we keep up hope,” Awudu said, “and to make sure we know that we will fall, but once we fall, we should look up.”

Reena Judd, the university’s rabbi, discussed the importance and humanity of healing as a community.

“We gather together to offer our most heartfelt sympathies to those who have lost more than time,” Judd said. “We embrace you with woven comfort and hope — even as we continue to remain at a distance.”

Before the ceremony, the QU facilities team built a pair of four-sided message boards for people to share their thoughts. One message board was placed in front of the library on the Mount Carmel Campus. The other was placed in the cafeteria on the North Haven Campus.

After all the remarks, while the wind still howled and the cold still came, Sawyer picked up a Sharpie and walked over to the Mount Carmel message board. He stood before a panel that read, “In remembrance of ...”

A few swirls later, Sawyer stepped back to review his work. A father was not forgotten. Others wrote their wishes for the future, universal sentiments that included a world without COVID-19.

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