Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, or for those of you not familiar with the musical, “Rent,” one year. One year exactly since I last thought this “coronavirus thing” would be temporary or that it wouldn’t be that bad. Sure, I knew it was serious, but last March 4 I wrote, “I am not overly panicked about the coronavirus, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little concerned and taking some precautions.” By the time I wrote again, on March 18, I had accepted the gravity of the situation but noted that it felt “completely surreal.”
It’s hard for me to imagine that I was that naïve about what would turn into an incredible tragedy for all of us. Exactly one year ago today I had no idea that the following day we would be sending students home and that our edition of the Weekly email would be changed at the last minute to address all that we knew about the virus and university plans.
I remember distinctly saying goodbye to one of our interns on March 11 and telling her I would see her in a few weeks. I honestly had no idea she would graduate and get a job and that I wouldn’t see her again. I had no clue how bad things would get. I’m not sure many of us could have imagined. Two days later, when the photo above was taken, most university staff were also sent home to begin what has been 363 days today of working from our kitchen tables, spare rooms, home offices or wherever we can. Often, we’re doing it while juggling kids, pets, parents, health concerns and our mental well-being.
On my second day home, I ordered a desk. The next day, I got permission to return to campus to get my computer monitors. It was becoming apparent that we were in for the long haul. The following week, my back screaming, I returned to get my office chair when I realized a kitchen chair wasn’t going to cut it. It was a full two months later when I finally admitted to myself that we weren’t even close to getting back to campus, that I cleaned out the room I had been squatting in and made it a proper office.
And here we are, almost five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes later. How in the world do we measure that year? First and foremost, we must never forget the tragic stories of those we lost. Beyond that heartbreak, we’ve also lost jobs, opportunities, gathering with family and friends, weddings, graduations, birthdays, holidays, in-person education and more.
Everything we knew has changed — except us. Well, that’s not exactly true. We all changed how we live our lives and maybe even how we feel or what we think, but the resilience, compassion, strength, brilliance and grit of Spartans remains the same.
We can measure the year by those who stepped up immediately to make masks, find solutions, dive into research, create new ways to teach and care for each other. We can measure it by the adaptability demonstrated by students, staff, faculty and the Spartan community. We found ways to connect virtually, we celebrated our graduates, continued our research, kept things running and learned in new ways. We didn’t give up.
Recently, President Stanley took a few minutes to thank the campus community for doing all they’ve done this past year. I may not be the president of MSU, but I’m also so very grateful that in these most trying times, we figured out ways to keep moving forward.
And, while we’re still far from the end of this pandemic, there are hopeful signs all around us, like the numbers of people being vaccinated and the announcements about in-person graduation ceremonies and an upcoming fall semester that will be more “typical.”
I think it’s important to recognize that it is no small feat that we have accomplished what we have this past year. And I mean every accomplishment — from major discoveries and success to simply getting out of bed when things seemed so overwhelming. We are living in times we couldn’t have expected. Everything we knew was turned upside-down. But we soldiered on the best we could.
We have made it through every one of those five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. We have done it with grace, compassion, smarts, determination and skill. And that is something to be proud of. If no one has told you lately, you are incredible.
So, how do we measure a year? Certainly, we can “in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee” as the song says. But in this past year, there was so much more than that. We can measure it by the strength we found together, though we were forced to stay apart. Spartans Will.