In This Together: Edition 2

Community strong as isolation extends

March 27, 2020
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer

Staff in the College’s Marketing & Communications office are continuing to find and post stories from our community during these uncommon times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve invited anybody among us to share whatever from their daily lives might inspire and make us feel connected, from the more serious to the whimsical. Last week’s early responses were heartening, and this past week we heard from more Purple Knights about their lives in our new shared reality. The idea here is to uplift and inspire through what we hope can be a running periodic forum for community-building, neighborly check-ins and collective sustenance. Please continue to share your news items, however seemingly small. We also welcome broader updates from your offices, departments and homes.

Thanks to everyone who shared the following submissions and community snapshots. Keep them coming – email to mtarnacki@smcvt.edu

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Keeping the faith for dispersed brethren

Countless citizens of Purple Knight nation, scattered now due to COVID-19, were able, via a YouTube Channel video link from the Edmundites, to hear and see the familiar visages and cadences of Campus Ministry’s Fr. Brian Cummings, S.S.E. ’86 celebrating Sunday Mass in the chapel, along with campus minister Anna Lester doing the Sunday readings; and to hear music minister Jerome Monachino playing with typical soulful virtuosity on guitar and singing as beautifully as ever. Those three, with technical help from the tech-savvy Fr. Lino Oropeza, S.S.E. ’11, and another helper, made the Mass recording Saturday afternoon and had it distributed through the Alumni Office and other channels. They hope to do so for coming Sundays as well if conditions permit. Jerome had a nice reflection about the experience:

“Have to tell you that it was a very strange experience celebrating liturgy with just five of us at the main altar in the big Chapel. At one point in the beginning, I did feel the familiar squeeze I would normally get on a recording session, when you know you only have one-take to lock it in and make it happen. Unfortunately, that can lead to self-absorption and over-think, which can quickly paralyze your ability to really enter into the moment. But as the familiar prayers unfolded in that Sacred Space, I began to relax and feel a sense of connectedness and calm. I guess after all these years I’m starting to really pay attention; the Gospel reading was about Jesus opening the eyes of the blind man, and brought a sense of peace for me:  instead of worrying about making a mistake, I began to ask God to open my eyes to the presence of Christ. For a moment I forgot about the darkness…. That was a good moment!”

Jerome also heard from an alumni member of his liturgical choir and ensemble – Erin (Zehnacker ’03) and Matt Guzowski are flute and drum players respectively — who appreciated being able to watch that recorded Mass. Erin wrote: “Thank you so much for sending this. I was practicing flute earlier this evening and feeling especially sad about the mass cancellations and not being able to worship and make music with our St. Michael’s community for the foreseeable future. Hearing your music and seeing the chapel lifted my spirits, and we will enjoy watching the full mass with the kids tomorrow morning…”

NYC reflections from Josh Bardier, Class of ’10

Josh Bardier ’10, a widely recognized campus figure during his student days from his memorable theatrical work, bigger-than-life personality and habit of skateboarding from place to place, made his way to New York City after college to pursue acting dreams. He had time this week to check in with thoughts from one of our nation’s most challenged COVID-19 “hot spots.”

He writes:  “We are living in some of the most curious of times. As I sit in my New York City apartment, I look out the window. Across the street is a park with no one in it today. No basketball games. No tennis. No tag. Just silence. That is a rarity, if not impossibility, in this city. But the reality and gravity of this moment has left the city that never sleeps in a state of rest. And I, like the majority of the world, have had to come to terms with a new normal; but one aspect remains the same- my Hope. I’ve spent many an hour these past weeks reconnecting with friends and professors from my Saint Michael’s days; catching up and making sure everyone is safe and healthy. I close my eyes and recall so many moments from my time on campus that have shaped the life I live today. Saint Michael’s was where I learned to embrace community and be the best Neighbor possible. Well, maybe Mister Rogers had his hand in teaching the latter but SMC continued that education. I have been blessed to be a part of communities filled with compassion, respect, empathy, kindness and a determination to defend the basic human rights of all. I count SMC as one of those communities. And it is because of my community I have Hope that this very scary, very uncertain, moment will unite us all even more so as neighbors; as humans. That we will shine light to walk through the darkness together. I have Hope that we will all become better Neighbors. I have Hope.”

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Social media forums run gamut of emotions

For many in our community, social media has become an even more vital forum to stay connected than usual. We’re seeing a full range of posts bringing welcome humor and philosophy into our “virtually” shared dialogue and awareness, but also in several cases, sadly, the full seriousness of this pandemic. Examples:

Our friend Jason Curry ‘95, founder of Big Apple Basketball that supports youth in the greater New York City area, had a sobering post Tuesday from New York, the current epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. The post drove home starkly just how real all of this is, made more poignant by the beautiful human faces of his friends in question that he posted along with his words, starting: “We have gotten ROCKED in #NYC the past week! #RIP to my brothers, Lee Green and David Edwards … who both passed today from COVID-19.” Jason proceeds in his post to write eloquently and from the heart about these close friends from the brotherhood of basketball who were among the pandemic’s early casualties. Saint Michael’s shares in Jason’s sorrow this week and in the sorrow of all victims’ families worldwide. Angela Armour of the College’s Alumni & Parent Relations Office received unofficial word Thursday of the death of a Saint Michael’s alumnus from COVID-19, the first she knew of, and says, “I fear this is just the beginning.”

Such times draw many to the spiritual or philosophical. Near the start of all this on March 16, Crystal L’Hote of our philosophy faculty posted substantial food for thought and a grounding perspective from Wendell Berry, the American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer, whose words have been widely shared since. Berry’s wisdom:

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

– W. Berry, ‘Our Real Work,’ 1983

….and, Adrie Kusserow of anthropology on Facebook this week offered a well-received modern variation on a favorite Mary Oliver poem. Adrie’s rendition, titled “MARY OLIVER for CORONA TIMES, (Thoughts after the poem WILD GEESE),” while longer than this space allows us to share in full, is well worth a full read, and we encourage anyone who can to visit Adrie’s Facebook page to see the entire work.

Some social media posts find occasion for welcome lighter reflection: A Monday snowfall that exceeded forecast expectations brought this from John Devlin of our Theater faculty: “I have a question for the philosophers amongst us. Living in northern Vermont, we were gifted with about five inches of snowfall since yesterday afternoon. It’s warm(ish) today…30s…so the snow packs really well. Here’s my conundrum: if I build a snowperson, am I in violation of the social distancing norms established by the CDC?”

Liz Inness-Brown and Nick Clary of English had a good idea for the readers among us seeking worthwhile home-bound enterprises, relating to a beloved member of the Saint Michael’s community, Will Marquess: Liz posted, “If you’re looking for a good read, buy Will Marquess’s book BADTIME STORIES, available from bookstores everywhere, including Amazon. It is a novel disguised as a book of stories. Poignant, beautiful written, funny, and so so sweet. Best yet, there is a sequel coming soon!”

Nick had information about the sequel to share in his comments: “Yes, and Will’s next book is already off the press and will be available soon. Here is the cover of Will’s new book, “Things I Want You To Do.”

Online classes: So far, so good, say early reports

Patrick Standen of the philosophy faculty mid-day Wednesday had an efficient snapshot and assessment about the first day of online classes for Saint Michael’s students: “First philosophy Zoom lesson … It went better than expected. Here are a few immediate observations:

  1. Not all college students have internet access;
  2. It is a myth that the young are better at technology;
  3. Having a clean room is not a high priority.

Here’s Karen Popovich of the business faculty, with another typical-sounding experience on Day 1 Wednesday: “Since many of our business and accounting faculty teach in the summer or have taught online for years, I felt we were in a good position to ensure a positive learning experience for our students.  Some of us are teaching synchronously, others asynchronously with additional ‘virtual’ office hours either via Zoom video conference, phone or email.  In our Zoom department meeting, we were also able to share some new tools and assignments that we have discovered in this process.  The faculty just instantly moved into action. We ran a Zoom “tech check” in my mostly seniors business strategy class on Tuesday before classes started remotely.  Nearly all of our class was present!  We fumbled through a few tech glitches and “can you hear me now?” statements which brought more than a few giggles. We were so glad to see one another, and a few of our pets, and I really noticed that we were also full of hope and optimism for our days to come. William Sirota’ 20 lightened our mood by signing to the video class in mask, gown, and gloves to remind everyone to stay at home and flatten the curve!  We talked about how we were going to move forward with our projects, set up a Zoom chat feature, brainstormed a “buddy” system to check in on each other,  and discussed how we could make a few our projects work in the revised online format. While we are most certainly looking forward to the day that we can be together in person again, I am feeling pretty confident that we will do well and do good in the days to come.”

Some posts, however, mentioned the challenges for those many faculty responsible for homeschooling those faculty’s own children while also continuing to have responsibility for teaching their full classes of Saint Michael’s students besides – in effect two full-time jobs to do in a single day’s time. Others debated the relative merits and downsides of Zoom for teaching, with cases made for both sides of the debate.

Anya Sonwaldt ’22 (daughter of Ingrid Peterson from Career Development) gave a student’s view just prior to online classes resuming, and shared a rare still-on-campus perspective – she’s a Health Science major with a minor in Business Administration from North Ferrisburgh, VT, and one of the very few with permission to stay on campus because she works at the IT helpdesk. “It’s a very spooky feeling walking around campus with no one here,” she writes. “They put ‘Do Not Enter’ tape by the seating in Alliot and there are so many emails I’m receiving about how to stay healthy. All of my professors have reached out to us to let us know how the class would be structured. They have all been very understanding that this is a tough time for everyone and will take some getting used to. Students haven’t really communicated between classes but my friends have all shared similar feelings about moving to online classes. Most of us are pretty upset that we had to leave campus, but understand that it is necessary to keep as many people as possible healthy.” Potential challenges Anya considered included that she is a “hands-on” learner, and online classes don’t favor such learners. She also wonders about the possible temptation to procrastinate more for students in the new model, or to be less motivated. “The Friday that everyone was asked to leave was very weird. The sky was dark and very windy and I think that just matched the mood that people felt. I feel for the seniors that have a big chunk of their last semester taken away from them, and the spring sports teams that lost their entire season,” Anya said. “While this makes everyone sad, keeping staff members, professors, and family safe is more important.”

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Young alumna sews masks for healthcare workers

The St. Mike’s Alumni Office this week reminded us that “During this uncertain time, it’s important to remember all the good happening in the world. In honor of Alumni Appreciation Week, we are collecting and sharing stories of SMC alumni that inspire and make us feel connected. Today’s story is about a young alumna doing her part to support those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic: Emily Loebs ’16, the founder of EJL Designs, has been putting her sewing skills to good use in the past few days, as she works to complete masks for healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Monday was her second day of working on completing masks and to date, she has shipped 32 masks, completed 51 total, and is working to fulfill 125+ orders for those within her community. Loebs works as an Officer of Funding and Collateral Transformation at State Street and has been completing masks in the evenings once her day job is done. If you or someone you know is in need of a mask, please email Emily at Ejldesigns24@gmail.com.” Emily was a dual-sport varsity Purple Knight athlete as well, and our sports information team just posted a great feature about her recent efforts on the athletics news site.

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Recent graduate strives to keep the magic alive

Many alumni, whatever their professions, have been innovating and getting more creative in order to keep their respective enterprises moving forward during the pandemic isolation. An example is Jeremy Mikaelson ’19, who is a professional magician in Florida. He posted this recently on Facebook: “I am now officially unemployed and this is how I refill my coke! 😂😭” (He then posted a video of himself doing a nifty magic trick with a coke bottle that magically fills itself in his empty lunch bag– see the link below — and urged fellow alumni to possibly support him and other currently out-of-work entertainers through online links if so inspired. Find him on Facebook or other fellow alumni needing support, such as food and hospitality workers if you are able. https://www.facebook.com/100008902366345/videos/2423906434582745/?id=100008902366345

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‘Missing what SMC Normal is at this time of year’

Few capture the St. Mike’s spirit more wholly than Chris Kenny, the College’s Director of Athletics, whose family the last couple weeks is having an experience parallel to many families of our students, as he describes:kenny

“Our family is doing ok – Molly is home from Quinnipiac for the rest of the year, living the same life our SMC students are living with online education.  Jillian ’18 is working in patient support services at the UVM Medical Center… while my wife Lisa is working a combination of remotely and on site for Vermont Family Network …  The world of college athletics is changing daily – sometimes hourly – like every other aspect of life these days. Work is a combination of many things anticipating the impact/responding to these changes, working to stay engaged with and support our student-athletes and staff, tracking recruiting efforts, shifting plans and working on short and long-term projects, and tackling some of the many projects that get slid to the side because of the crush of daily life when our students are here.  How we miss the sweet crush of daily life with our students here!”

Chris speaks for many in a recent message: “I really miss what SMC Normal is at this time of the yearfrenetic and fun, celebratory and vibrant, goofy and intense, poignant and memorable – all rolled up into seven fast-moving weeks that bring the arrival of True Spring and culminate with Commencement. I hope things go well for our faculty and students with the online learning launch … and that we can find ways to keep the SMC flame burning and the community connected until we get our ‘normal’ back again.  Looking forward to celebrating that moment with you and our SMC family.”

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Fr. Michael: ‘God’s light always flickers in darkness’

The daily Lenten Reflections from a blog and booklet through Edmundite Campus Ministry seem uncanny some days lately in their timing and applicability to our present situation, such as a Reflections passage from Edmundite Fr. Michael Carter, S.S.E. ’12’s for Sunday, March 15 (the day before our two isolation weeks from campus so far began). Fr. Michael’s words popped off the page:

“Despair is of course a development of pride so great that it chooses one’s own certitude rather than admit that God is more creative than we are. We see a dry desert. God brings forth water from the rock. We wrap ourselves up in our own misery. God gives fully to those who turn to him, and even to those who remain distant. The creative power of God’s light always flickers in the darkness, if we had but the courage to grasp for it. God’s creative power is always at work in the most unexpected of moments.”

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Music helps carry The Weight

Finally, an uplifting last word (and music) from Ringo Starr, Robbie Robertson and a few of their talented friends across the globe in a video via Rolling Stone that was racking up views worldwide online this week:

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/robbie-robertson-the-weight-ringo-starr-video-885980/?fbclid=IwAR2912zBuJdH1Itv9zHXdhRZjGUyzoaJmWlUb5BJYYSdXx5vW6KA8IlqWis

 

 

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