The Resiliency of Grinnellians

David Jarvis ’04, Alumni Council member

As the Alumni Council returned to Grinnell in person for the first time since March 2020, one thing was immediately apparent to all of us: The challenges and trials of the past nearly two years have taken a toll on us all. I, along with every other Alumni Council member, could clearly see it.

Yet, despite these challenges, it was equally apparent that the students were grateful to be back on campus, together. After all, as any Grinnellian knows, the best parts of a Grinnell experience are those impromptu community moments that occur outside of any scheduled activity. The pandemic has disrupted the Grinnell experience students are having and the ways in which we, as alumni, connect with one another. But the resiliency and care for one another I saw on campus (and reflected in the alumni community) has me convinced that this is not unique to 2020 or 2021 but rather is a hallmark of the Grinnell community that generations of alums have experienced over time.

I will begin with my own such story. When I was a second year at Grinnell, I remember waking up on Sept. 11, 2001, to find the world was a different place. My friends and classmates were challenged and appalled by what had happened, but as a Grinnell community we instinctively came together to help each other process and manage our responses to this national tragedy. We helped each other have both resiliency and strength during those dark days. I asked my fellow Alumni Council members to reflect on their experiences of trauma and how the Grinnell community held together and made them stronger through it.

Here are a few powerful examples.

“I was on campus in 1963 when JFK was assassinated. When it hit the airways, I was ready to go to my dinnertime shift as a server in the Main Dining Hall. It seemed campus activity had ground to a halt. The loggia was empty as I passed each dorm. I heard none of the typical late afternoon sounds. Instead, I heard the same tragic news broadcast repeatedly from multiple TVs and radios. At that moment, it seemed Grinnell students had become one in the stunning realization that our president had been murdered. We shared shock, anger, and grief; and in that sharing we seemed more mature, more appreciative of one another, and closer in our humanity.”

— Rebecca Reetz Neal ’65

“During the summer of 1974, the summer of Watergate, President Nixon’s enemies list, massive demonstrations on the Mall, Nixon’s resignation, and a country wondering if our government would survive, I was completing an internship at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. When I wore Grinnell gear while wondering about D.C., Grinnell alumni would stop me to talk about Grinnell, our community, and current events. It was that sense of a larger Grinnell community, a community that was there to help and support each other, that helped me through those tumultuous historic events.”

— Robert Ruhl ’76

“In November 1979, the Iran hostage crisis began, and it was demoralizing and scary for the whole country, let alone the college students. Andrew Young came to campus to speak. He was at the time a diplomat at the U.N. before becoming the Atlanta mayor in 1981. His message about our perceived shift in world perception and how we still had influence to go forward and do good things was comforting. Also, many students got politically active by attending the election year caucuses in the basements of Grinnell bars, registering other students to vote, and canvassing for important political issues. Whatever the outcome, coming together to try and effect change was a way of feeling a little more in control in a crazy world.”

— Ann Poor Cary ’81

I am sure there are countless more stories about the many times Grinnellians have come together to support and uplift one another during times of national, international, local, and even personal crisis. This is a community we can count on. This is a community that is stronger together and during these uncertain times. Let Grinnell be among the community anchors in your life. Together, we are stronger.

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