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This year, the summer solstice fell on June 21 at 11:32 p.m. EST in the northern hemisphere. At that moment, the sun reversed its trajectory in relation to the earth and the days began to get incrementally shorter. The solstice seems to sneak up on us each year, arriving shortly after school ends. The anticipation of summer activity is palpable, if somewhat tempered by the reminder of the shortening of daylight. The annual cycle of seasons is accompanied by memories and moods with which we make the most of the days and the light we have.

History also has recurring cycles. They are not as predictable as the seasons, but successive generations encounter events that our ancestors have seen under different guises. The events of different eras are never exactly the same, but the human qualities needed to meet the challenges of the day have a common and enduring character. Courage, determination, honesty, compassion, and imagination are called upon in each generation.

I was reminded of the cycles of history while perusing the biography of Br. Edmund Rice last week. Br. Rice founded the Christian Brothers out of the ashes of personal and social crises. Late 18th-century Ireland was ravaged by a cholera epidemic while Irish-Catholics suffered under the brutal regime of British penal laws. Having lost his wife during childbirth, Br Rice turned his attention from his successful business to educating poor street children, establishing the order of Christian Brothers and schools that would eventually spread their mission across the globe to educate hundreds of thousands of students.

As I look back on this past year, the suffering caused by the pandemic and the anguish engendered in our communities by persistent racism loom large. In their shadow, however, I see shining at Iona College the same qualities of courage, determination, compassion, and vision that ushered Br. Rice through the challenges of the late 18th century.

Our students set the tone by implementing and sustaining the COVID safety protocols on campus. Our faculty adopted new teaching methods to reach students remotely. Their commitment to excellence in the classroom led them to refine their use of technology by working together to share their expertise across disciplines.

While we learned of the new opportunities technology enables, the pandemic caused many to suffer from isolation. Our students made it clear to us that interpersonal interaction on campus is paramount to their learning experience. So while our faculty is working to refine our technological acumen, we are transforming the center of campus into the Murphy Green where people can meet to deepen conversation and community. This space is funded by a generous gift from Joe Murphy and his family in honor of beloved Iona trustee JoAnn Murphy.

Although the pandemic demanded a great deal of our attention and energy, we did not allow it to distract our focus from our vision for the future. We launched new academic programs in nursing and entrepreneurship and renewed our accreditation for the LaPenta School of Business. We acquired new talent by hiring the first female dean to lead the LaPenta School of Business, created the office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and hired our inaugural chief operating officer.

While some of our peer institutions struggle with contraction, we finalized an agreement to purchase the Concordia College campus in Bronxville, where we will establish a home for a new School of Health Sciences and expand opportunities for students to participate in the performing arts and club sports.

This has been a difficult year, but the anticipation of summer is coalescing with our emergence from the darkness of the pandemic. At Iona, we are attuned to this optimism because we are a part of a history and a tradition founded on courage, determination, honesty, compassion, and vision. We know we will face new challenges going forward, but we can be confident we have what it takes to rise above them.

Seamus Carey, Ph.D.

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