Reflections on Newtown
Dear Members of the Extended Skidmore Family:
Our hearts go out to the parents and families of those who have been lost in last Friday’s tragic events at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and to the firefighters, police, clergy, and so many others who have been seeking both to bring comfort and to make sense of this seemingly senseless event. Our feelings of grief and accompanying outrage are only heightened by the fact that the gunman specifically targeted the most vulnerable among us. On the other hand, there is no limit to our admiration for the members of the school staff who took swift action and, in some cases, gave their own lives to protect the children in their charge.
I am heartened that many in our community already have found ways to express their condolences to the people of Newtown—including more than 50 Skidmore alumni, parents, and friends—and stand in solidarity with them. Harnessing both new (Twitter and Facebook) and old (cards and letters) technology to acknowledge their suffering and pain, you are engaging in a very human and humane act that is itself an important and powerful first step toward addressing our collective grief. As the seventeenth-century British poet John Donne observed, we are all connected in our humanity: “every man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” Last Friday, when so many such connections were severed in an instant, we were reminded yet again of the inestimable value of every life and the fragility of the social fabric that creates the context for any form of human existence. At the same time, Robbie Parker, father of one of the children murdered at Sandy Hook, was surely right to say, "We are better than this."
Seeking to make sense of things is, of course, the core of what an academic community does, and there is much yet to be discovered and understood about these horrific events. But understanding alone is not sufficient to achieve the healing we seek. As President Obama said in his remarks during last Sunday evening’s memorial service, “We have to change.” His words apply to us as well, as members of a national liberal arts college: we too must change. We need to learn better how to engage in difficult dialogue with both a critical mind and a spirit of respect. We need to reach out more consistently and effectively to those in our community who have felt marginalized. We need to reaffirm the impulse to harness knowledge in service of making the world a better place—to help our students understand the connection between personal values and public policy, as well as our shared responsibilities as citizens in a democracy. We need to teach these things to our students, and allow them to teach us as well.
We are, indeed, better than this. So let each of us do what lies within our power to prove the truth of this statement through the opportunities, challenges, and support we offer to our students and through a renewed commitment to make real—both here and in the world at large – the values that define us as Skidmore College.
Philip A. Glotzbach