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Six things I learned from Irma


Nature can gather itself into forces that dwarf human concerns, things, and plans.  It doesn’t really care about our schedules, projects, or priorities.  It can be sublime in the scope of its power: awe-inspiring and frightening even as it is wondrous.  Nature can destroy what it creates and create anew what it has destroyed.


Sound reasoning never draws conclusions about trends or causation from single instances, but the credible predictions about climate change include predictions of weather extremes out of proportion with historical norms. As I watched the vastness of Irma consume all of Florida, from Key West to Jacksonville, as I was reminded of the scale of rain and flooding produced by hurricane Harvey in Texas only days ago, I couldn’t help but wonder whether climate change is not some subtle shift over time but an acute concern, the effects of which we are feeling right now?


There is nothing quite so moving as seeing what people will do to help one another when pressed by adversity.  There is a fabric to civil society that has seemed threadbare and tattered of late; Irma showed us that there is still strength in that fabric.


Looking very close to home, our home of Rollins College, the tireless effort, care, and mutual concern that we showed towards one another demonstrated that we – and I mean all of us – have bonds to each other and to this place that are deep and strong.  There are too many who deserve to be recognized by name. Here let me simply express my deepest respect for those who gave so tirelessly to provide for the safety and security of our students and campus: all of the good people in Campus Safety and Security, Facilities Management, Grounds & Landscape, Housekeeping, Information Technology, Marketing & Communications, Residential Life & Explorations, and Sodexo.  Without regard to their own anxieties, concerns, and struggles, scores of our community members tended to the needs of this home and family before their own.  Bravo!, for their courage and commitment.


Semesters have a life of their own.  They are living, breathing units of time with rhythms that matter.  We had just launched our fall semester at Rollins with all of its attendant fanfare and anticipation.  I worry that the energy and focus of the semester has been disrupted by Irma.  We need to join in solidarity that we will recapture this semester, and return our focus to our mission at Rollins.


Finally, I learned that resilience matters.  College semesters are highly complex and orderly.  Every faculty member crafts the syllabi for their courses with great precision and creativity.  Athletic schedules are set many months in advance.  Preparation for musical and theatrical performances are carefully orchestrated.  Campus events of all kinds claim their space on the calendar sometimes a year out.  We now share the mighty challenge of reorganizing all of this organization without giving an inch on our aspirations for the depth, rigor, and richness of the semester.

I hope we all will show resilience in the coming days, with all the patience, generosity, and fortitude this campus community already demonstrated, as we reconnect with each other and our common purpose.

Fiat Lux!

President Cornwell

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