Even as it scatters and sequesters, Norwich community shows resilience, cohesion

How has Norwich’s community adapted to the coronavirus pandemic’s brave new world? Recent picture-and-narrative-packed missives suggest it’s with trademark mettle and moxie and sometimes merriment.

Toward the end of his March 31 “News from The Hill” video address to Norwich’s community, President Richard W. Schneider harked back to a World War II tradition in which armed forces personnel sent letters back to the university documenting their movements and experiences. The letters are saved in the university’s archives, where they’ve enhanced study, Schneider said, especially helping international students master English and history students reflect on the war.

With a different global battle in progress, the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic, Schneider asked remote-learning students, faculty, staff and graduates to revive the tradition and send in stories and pictures of their activities, this time by electronic mail, instead of by the Postal Service.

“What I’d like you to do is write to us. Tell us what you’re doing, how you’re thinking, how you’re surviving through this crisis.” Richard W. Schneider, Norwich University president

With Schneider’s plea, Norwich, and its Archives and Special Collections staff, join a national push by universities and their libraries or archives to compile COVID-19 stories for posterity. Google’s news aggregator on Friday had reports of Stanford University, the University of Georgia, Penn State University and the University of Maine calling for material.

“What I’d like you to do is write to us,” Schneider, behind his desk, clad in his green Vermont Militia uniform, said into the camera. “Tell us what you’re doing, how you’re thinking, how you’re surviving through this crisis. What things are you doing to help your family or your community?

“I want (those stories) there for the students 50 or 100 years from now when we’re celebrating our 300th birthday,” he added, “so they can see what you did as leaders. Alums, same thing for you, as well.”

Schneider called and the community began responding. Two graduates, Michael Shoen ’92 and Kimvy Lor ’95 spoke from the coronavirus battle’s foremost lines.

Shoen, a U.S. Army colonel, shared a picture of himself in uniform and a blurb about participating in a Defense Support to Civil Authorities COVID-19 response. The mission, he wrote, is distributing medical assets in Federal Emergency Management Association regions V (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin), VI (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas) and VII (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska).

“KILL THE VIRUS,” wrote Shoen, a Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, resident, echoing the Defense Department’s adopted Twitter hashtag.

Lor, an intensive care unit nurse at Stanford Hospital in California, showed a picture of herself in a protective face mask with two other nursing colleagues.

“I was definitely excited and nervous,” she said in an email describing the moment. “But I’m working with an amazing team of critical care providers in this most difficult situation.”

Poetry in motion

Two Norwich employees, meanwhile, responded artfully. Amy Holt, a 2019 Norwich graduate who is now the university’s transition and academic success coach and veteran services liaison, wrote a poem.

“Oddly from love, friends and family scatter/To stay healthy and safe we avoid those who matter,” an excerpt reads. “A sickness came, and it challenged us all/Some rose up and others did fall. This pandemic indeed changed life it seems/Will lessons remain, outside of the memes(?)”

jagemann photo 1500x1150 min
Norwich University political science and history faculty convened recently for a videoconferenced staff meeting. (Photo courtesy Jason F. Jagemann.)

The poem concluded by projecting hope.

“Tomorrows will come, for some of us/Parents to work and kids on the bus,” Holt, who majored in criminal justice, wrote. “Maybe the good that we’ve learned in this. Will carry on and not find us remiss.”

And Dr. Jason F. Jagemann, a political science professor, sent a picture of a videoconferenced staff meeting. Faces peering from the grid included Jagemann, fellow political science professors Dr. Michael Andrew, Dr. Yangmo Ku and Dr. Michael Thunberg; and history professors Dr. Mark Boonshoft, Dr. Rowland Brucken, Dr. Emily Fisher Gray, Dr. Christine McCann, Dr. Reina Pennington, Dr. Steven Sodergren and Dr. Thomas Frank Taylor.

The picture seemed to remind Jagemann of the grid of faces that appeared in the opening sequence of the 1970s situation comedy “The Brady Bunch.” So, he wrote his own lyrics to the earworm-inducing theme song.

Here’s a story,
of a great department,
with political scientists and historians.

All them were quarantined,
like the country,
yet they still had work to do.

Every Friday, this department has a meeting,
and they miss seeing and hearing everyone.
Social distancing may be hard,
but it’s rewarding when we meet-up like the Brady Bunch.

Have a story to share about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you? Consider donating letters, journal entries, photos or videos that you’d like to become part of our historical record. Contribute your stories here: https://bit.ly/2WRiZ3s


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