Finding togetherness in trying times

Students gather for the sunset at New College

By Abby Weingarten

It’s quiet on campus today as the current state of the coronavirus—now a pandemic—has mandated social distancing. The residence halls are nearly empty, group events have been canceled, and remote learning will soon be the new normal, at least for a while.

Some students are still here; they have nowhere else to go. It’s spring break—a respite that would typically bring revelry. But this year is different. And things may never be quite the same.

I was a second-year student at New College during the 9/11 attacks. I remember groups gathering in Hamilton Center to watch the news (on one communal TV), jaws open, mouths covered, knowing little more than one truth: America was under attack. What would happen next, we could only speculate, and the anxiety in the atmosphere was at a high I’d never seen on campus (or maybe anywhere, at any time, in my young life).

There were students from New York City, frantically attempting phone communication from landlines (few cell phones back then), and others discussing joining the military (they were young and healthy, they said, and felt called).

Three of my friends enlisted in the Army. Other friends volunteered at nonprofits, got involved in local government organizations and compiled care packages for the families of the victims. Students counseled and consoled each other, and they became empowered by consistent and consuming action.

It was a terrifying time. But it was beautiful. Because, as our faith in humanity and the world seemed to be slipping, the people around us were restoring it tenfold.

I remember the helplessness and the helpfulness, but mostly, I remember New College students, faculty and staff wanting to do something…anything. That’s just the kind of the people they were (the kind of people they are).

So, as we encounter an unprecedented threat in deeply uncertain times, it brings me comfort to remember what happened here almost 20 years ago (and what has likely happened here during numerous crises before that).

It’s not the same situation today; it’s entirely different. But, as much as the world and people change, there is something about this place that never has. There may be less hugs and hand holding—and more video chats and virtual classrooms—this time around, but the empathy remains the same.

The closeness of a community isn’t defined by physical proximity. What we have here at New College is something that has endured decade after decade, crisis after crisis.

We’re in this together. We always have been. And, right now, that is a truly powerful thing.

Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.

Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 800 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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