Dear members of the university community,
“I wish you a Happy New Year. We will face the challenges
ahead with the same courage, optimism and commitment that
we have demonstrated so frequently in the past few years.
Even better days are around the corner.
See you there – bring it on 2020!”
Oops! This is what I wrote to conclude last year’s New Year message! Bring it on 2020!? Little did we know what was in store for this year.
But now we know, and hopefully, we are better and stronger for it even if there has been unparalleled pain and suffering for so many families – many connected with our FIU. In the midst of the complications around the COVID-19 response, vaccine distribution, new diversity initiatives, and the vicious politics that now characterize our polity, my message in this note will be quite simple.
It pivots around a recent experience that I want to share motivated by one of our December 2020 graduates: So out of the blue (a saying from Southeastern Ohio meaning unexpectedly) on December 12, I received an email message from someone named Rosa Andrews. Rosa explained that she would be graduating the next day, on December 13, with a Psychology major, Summa Cum Laude.
Then she reminded me about my very candid and personal message to our community on March 22, 2020, Coronavirus Now: A Parable, A Dream, and Some Lessons!, about the personal difficulties of managing through this COVID-19 nightmare. In that message, I asked for any responses that individuals might want to share. Rosa wrote back about the toll that COVID-19 was taking on her and her family – her husband and two sons, then ages 7 and 11, the difficulties of taking four classes, a lab, and coping with the new profound challenges of lives turned upside down.
In her most recent message to me, Rosa wrote that my response to her on that same March 22 “made me feel not only acknowledged but supported throughout all of this …” She went on to summarize my comments then: “Corona … will not get the best of us but it will definitely bring the best of us out and we will keep learning, growing and changing the world.”
What I in fact said then:
“Rosa – let’s you and me get through this together – is that a deal? You can do this … one step at a time ... we want every student to stick with us and not to leave or drop out. We want every student to graduate. Corona cannot get the best of us! Counting on you to stick with it …”
Rosa obviously found a way to get through it and has now graduated! It’s her second degree – she graduated from UF 15 years earlier with a bachelor’s degree as well.
And yes – for 2021 we are obsessing on keeping our community safe and, of course, student success, rankings, and impact. But let’s remember, as we head into 2021, that every learner counts and that we have to message to each and everyone in ways that make a difference.
So, here is my request for this New Year. Rosa’s story is a moving statement on the power of communication and encouraging words. Find a way to improve how you communicate with loved ones, friends, and others around you. Imagine if each of us can improve how we message – both verbally and non-verbally – we can get even more done than if it is “business as usual” in 2021 in our communications!
I am so blessed to have received Rosa’s note days ago as a reminder of the things that really count. We will thrive in 2021 if we all can get better in these things, beginning with our communication and the messages that we convey! Happy New Year! Let’s go!
Mark B. Rosenberg