A Message to CSU Students from Tony Frank, October 29, 2013
In the past two weeks, two of our first-year students have died in our residence halls. Many of you knew these students and have been personally affected by their loss. Others of you have lost other friends through illness, suicide, accidents — and recent events have awakened many of those memories. And so today, many on our campus are struggling with anger, guilt, sorrow, questions, and even fear.
Some of you are worried. Others want to know what the University can and should be doing to honor these students and help others in need.
Maybe it’s the leaves falling from our trees or the chilly and cloudy skies, but I find myself struggling with what to say to you that might offer something useful, something with comfort and perspective. Words seem insufficient, but please bear with me while I try.
There’s so much that all of us at the University want to tell you:
Ask for help when you’re hurting. Take care of yourselves and each other — and tell someone when you have concerns for a friend who’s struggling. Understand and never forget that you are important and have value, not just to your families and our University community but to our world. In an age when our planet faces enormous challenges that are increasingly complex and perplexing, we desperately need your minds, your talents, your energy, and the insights that you and you alone will bring in the years ahead.
I also want to let you know that your residence hall staff and our Student Case Managers are here for you and want you to come to them when you feel lost, that the counseling services in our Student Health Network are available 24/7, that the CSU safety site has a wealth of resources and information, and that every single member of the CSU faculty and staff is invested in your personal and academic success and above all your well-being. I want you to know that this generally has been and remains a very safe campus and that your safety is among our greatest responsibilities and our absolute highest priorities.
Still, I know you’ve heard all this from me before. What I want to write to you today is a bit more personal. On a campus of more than 35,000 people, we share all the joys and grief that are part of human life and community — births, weddings, graduations, illness, and deaths, some of which come at the end of a long, productive life and some that come much too soon — knocking us off balance, shifting our view of the world, challenging our own thinking on mortality, and sometimes just breaking our hearts.
As an older person writing to a group of people who are mostly quite a bit younger, it’s easy to say that this is a difficult part of life and one that we all have to come to terms with at some point. But I’m not sure it’s possible for thoughtful people ever to really come to terms with losing a young person of extraordinary gifts who seems to have so much yet to hope for and look forward to. At least that’s not something I’ve ever been able to fully come to terms with myself. With proximity of space and time, that loss is deep and raw.
But still, we do have to find our own personal ways to move forward that are healthy and meaningful, and that’s where your youth gives you an edge over some of us older people. Your anger, your sense of loss, your questions can transform your view of the world and give deeper meaning to the choices you make and the ways you spend your days, months, and years going forward. You have the great and wondrous gift of time, and what you’re learning through all of this, however painful, will deepen your perspective and be yours to teach to others in the years ahead.
And one of the most difficult lessons to accept is that some of your questions may always remain unanswered. When someone dies, we all have to respect the rights of family members and close friends to grieve privately and in peace. This can be difficult and in some ways unsatisfying, but it’s a part of what we have to do.
We also need to find ways to recognize and honor the lives we’ve lost and the friends and colleagues we miss. And so we’re going to start a new tradition this year at CSU — a tradition that recognizes that we are part of a great community and that the connections among us — including the sinew of memory — are lasting and strong. We’re going to find an evening for the campus to come together — to gather, reflect, and pay tribute to the members of our community who have left us during the year. It will be a time to remember and a time to look forward. Dean of Students Jody Donovan will lead this effort and will work with our student community to create an event that will be meaningful and respectful for all of us. It’s not an answer, but it’s something we can and should do. And so we will.
As we head toward the coming weekend, I have a request of you:
Let’s all work to be a little bit kinder, a little bit more decent, a little bit more responsible toward each other, acknowledging that while we never fully can understand someone else’s struggles — while we never actually can walk in their shoes — kindness and compassion never hurt. Make smart choices. Take care of one another. And remember that we need each of you. Our world needs you. CSU needs you. Each and every one of you is irreplaceable.
Dr. Tony Frank