As I begin teaching my class in Number Theory, I know that one topic that will arise later in the semester will be that of creating a perpetual calendar. I thought of this recently as I realized that the calendar will soon turn to a new month that, until a few years ago, was often a signal of the beginning of a new semester.
Of course, the summer is not officially over, and will not be for some time. However, with the return of children to school and the beginning of our classes, we all know that the truth is not to be found on a calendar.
The beginning of this new school year has been a particularly stressful time here at Ursuline, as we attempt to recover from the effects of a tornado that hit our college in late July. By now, most of the debris has been collected and ruined centuries old trees have been removed. It is now even possible to drive through the entire college without running into barriers. However, the crumbling gym remains, with the inside beams and basketball hoops exposed to the elements. Less dramatic evidence can be found other places on campus. There are boarded windows scattered across campus, where debris was flung and at times impaled into inside walls. A piece of debris hangs on a tree just outside my office window, and the roof of the swimming pool shows a small amount of damage on one corner. This is the only evidence that would alert any observer to the fact that the entire roof of that building was sucked up and then dropped back into place by the storm that spent a total of eleven seconds on campus. The pool had to be drained, and my decision to continue my summer habit of swimming laps every day has had to be revised.
I found myself asking my students on the first day of classes “so, how did you hear about the tornado?” Some of the athletes found out from their coaches, while others learned of it by logging onto the college web page. While everyone is excited to start a new school year, there is a definite sense of being overwhelmed as we look at the damage that has been done.
Our college president, Sister Diana Stano, has taken a wonderful attitude towards the event, as she plays the role of head cheerleader in helping us all deal with the reality of what happened. She reminds me, in some ways, of politicians who have rallied their constituencies in the face of great adversity, such as the terrorist attacks of 2001 or Hurricane Sandy. She laughed as she told us all at a community meeting that she thinks she knows what happened. She said with a smile that she did want a bigger gym, now that we have been accepted as Division II NCAA members. However, she joked, it looks like God took her at her word and decided to help her with the matter. Further, she told some of my students who play basketball that, since they are practicing at several different venues at all sorts of odd hours, she knows they will be a great team when playing on the road.
I wrote about our slow recovery a few weeks ago, and since then, the pictures I described have been placed in a permanent fundraising archive and can be accessed on the web. The photographs still make me cry, both because of the damage that has been done and because of the hope that they convey. And so, we all move forward to make sense of a broken campus and to prepare students to assume leadership roles in what is often a broken world.
Wishing all of my readers a wonderful and relaxing Happy Labor Day weekend!