Dean's Alumni Messages
Fall 2011 Message From the Dean
September 11, 2011
Dear HUHC Alumni:
In 1890 William James (1842-1910) famously pointed out in his Principles of Psychology that we normally live as if we are immersed in a “stream of consciousness.” Our experiences flow continuously one into the other and our attention is typically fixed on preparing for what may be just around the bend. And yet, when we remember our lives we see them broken into discrete units, marked by standard periods of time (e.g. weeks, months, years) or by the occurrence of events so monumental that we think of the time afterward as fundamentally different from whatever came before.
In the Fall of 2001 my “stream of consciousness” was dominated by the fact that Hofstra was welcoming its first HUHC class. Ninety-two pioneering students were coming to initiate a new college at Hofstra. There was so much to do and so many exciting students to get to know. I felt the bend in my own stream had nothing but happy surprises in store that week.
Classes began Monday, September 10th, with Dean J. Stephen Russell giving the first Culture and Expression (C&E) lecture in Breslin Hall. His topic was Genesis, the Bible’s first book. And on that day of firsts I knew we were witnessing the advent of an institution whose arrival would mark a new phase in Hofstra’s history.
And then everything really did change. The first disruption came when I overheard the philosophy department secretary, Barbara Francis, speaking quizzically into her phone: “A plane? At the World Trade Center?” I ran to Bits and Bytes where I stood with students and faculty looking at a recently mounted TV, staring at the gaping hole and watching horrified as the second plane hit. Eventually, I rode Axinn Library’s elevator to the 10th floor and just stared at the skyline and the smoke.
The world was tilting. There was another plane crash in Washington and a fourth in Pennsylvania. Terrified more crashes were pending, I called home. My wife and I were speaking as the first tower came down. Sirens wailed, and fire equipment raced westward on Hempstead Turnpike. By evening, with friends’ help, our daughter and two classmates made it home to Long Island from their Manhattan high school. Relief? Yes, of course. And yet no, not really.
All day Hofstra faculty and administrators worried about what to do for our students. Toward the end of the day Hofstra’s newly inducted president Stuart Rabinowitz decided we would hold classes. Bringing students together with their teachers seemed better than leaving them alone in their rooms on September 12th. And so, on the 3rd day of the semester I found myself facing students who were new to Hofstra, new to HUHC, and whose families were likely too far away to make going home feasible. My task was to speak to them about the Book of Job, a work that asks its readers to contemplate unspeakable suffering, evil, and injustice. I hope that the simple act of lecturing, of carrying on, was comforting to students who were trying to find their way on that awful day. I remember the hug one student gave me when my lecture was over. Mostly, though, I remember the lecture and the days afterward – as many of you surely did – as a blur of pain and longing and praying that people I hadn’t seen would turn out to be at home with their families.
Ten years later our nation and the world take measure of our collective loss and pain. Many years before 9/11, at a time with its own darkening political circumstances, the anthropologist Margaret Mead was quoted as saying “A small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed it's the only thing that ever has.” Looking back it is easy to see that the years after 9/11 have been marked by our collective awareness that small groups of individuals bent on destruction can indeed change the world in ways too horrible to imagine. And yet, though ours is an age that has been dominated by such fears, I hope we don’t allow them to blind us to the optimism embedded in Mead’s original observation. All change for the better has indeed always begun with small groups of thoughtful people working to lift up, console, and ultimately to learn from those whose needs have so much to teach us.
In this issue of our HUHC alumni newsletter you’ll see an article featuring HUHC students who have taken up this challenge through their work with Teach for America, an organization born out of a college honors thesis at Princeton. You’ll also see a story about a 2006 HUHC graduate who is working with a circle of friends to build schools for communities in Uganda. Of course, these stories are a mere sampling of the many achievements our students have had in the 10 short years since we opened our doors.
There are now XXX HUHC alumni. You’ve all gone on to begin your professional lives. Some of you are married. Some have started families. Who knows, within the next 10 years or so we may begin enrolling our first HUHC legacy students. There’s so much potential, so much promise in all of you.
I write this note while sitting in my apartment looking south at the Manhattan skyline on Sunday morning, September 11, 2011. As I do, my thoughts are first with the families who must share their grief with a city, a nation and ultimately with the world as each of the anniversaries pass. My thoughts are also with the 92 freshmen who were with us in 2001. Long grown and graduated, it will always be true that we went through those days together, and I’ll always be grateful for your presence.
And of course, ultimately, on a day like today, a day when memory forces me to acknowledge the ways our world changed on 9/11, I am also grateful to be able to say too that in that week something else significant happened in our lives at Hofstra. We launched a new venture, the Honors College, which has played a major role in transforming Hofstra and the lives of all who fall within its orbit.
While I know this anniversary is difficult because of the way a decade seems to matter to our memories, I’m hopeful that HUHC alumni will follow my lead and couple their memories of that time with the founding of HUHC and the evidence we have that indeed a small group of thoughtful people really can change the world for good. I know it is true because I’ve seen it happen.
Warren Frisina, Dean