Editor’s Note: While we struggle through a worldwide pandemic, it may be helpful to remember that our students and our University have faced other devastating events together and emerged stronger because of it. Joyce O’Connell shares her memories as a TESU student during Sept. 11, 2001.
I write the following only to give perspective because my Master of Science cohort had a unique circumstance. And it shows how remarkable Thomas Edison State University (formally Thomas Edison State College) was at this time.
Our studies were interrupted by the 9/11 attacks. This is when our professors, and the dean of students for distance online learning at the time, Dr. Esther Taitsman, went above and beyond giving students time to do whatever was necessary for them and their families. Thomas Edison was amazing as a higher learning institute during this very dark time in our country’s history.
I lost 45 colleagues and dear friends that day. I was scheduled to be in the World Trade Center for a client meeting. It was my account. I was a senior underwriter at the time. But, we had a social conflict as a group. At the end of the previous day, my manager, the senior vice president and referral manager, gave me permission to attend the industry golf outing to represent our team. (It was a reward for having worked so hard on the account. And because I had not attended any outings all year.) So, the three of them went to the renewal meeting that morning up on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center. My manager was attending in my place. It breaks my heart still, after 19 years, to say I lost all three of them on that dreadful day. What happened after was chaos for our entire country. But, especially, for New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa.
Companies did not have business continuation plans in place. (Except for their computer systems.) So companies scrambled to find space for employees to get back to work to provide some normalcy once again. It took months for that to happen. The insurance industry, specifically the East Coast, had been crippled with so many employee deaths.
For my thesis, I had chosen earlier in the year, to write a generic business continuation plan for a company’s entire business; which was adaptable to suit any company or its business. (By the time 9/11 had occurred, we were well into the pre-research portion of the process.) I actually began the process while on vacation in Hawaii in July 2001. Summer session was in full swing. So I continued with my classes, homework and research for the 16 days I was there.
After the 9/11 attacks, my thesis coach, Dr. Frank DeCaro, and Esther called me directly, as they were concerned this topic might be too much for me given my personal circumstances. And they were willing to give me extra time to choose another topic. But, I assured them I could handle it. It was almost cathartic to do the research and write the paper. And I did that, in between attending funerals and co-writing the eulogy for my manager. (One of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life.)
When I think back, there are so many ways the 9/11 events could have stopped our classes. Or, even could have shut Thomas Edison down for months. Because clearly, I was not the only student affected by the tragedy. But, the college, the professors and the dean rose to the occasion. They provided help and understanding to students who needed more time to get back to “their” normal. They trusted me to get my thesis in order for my verbal presentation in spite of the sensitivity of my topic.
And here’s a funny thing along the way. Murphy’s Law did kick in!
The community laptop we were all using that day for our presentations would not accept my memory stick. My entire presentation was on that stick. Thankfully, I had also prepared my presentation for an overhead projector as well, for the “just in case.” But for that, it couldn’t be as detailed as the original. So I bullet pointed the main thoughts and processes, and verbally winged the rest of it. I’m happy to say, it went as smooth as could be.
My memories of Thomas Edison are bittersweet. But, it will always remain as one of the most rewarding times in my life. Who would have ever imagined that once again, as a country and globally, we’d be facing another world devastating event? I know, TESU is once again rising to the occasion and helping their students maneuver through.
Written by Joyce O’Connell, MS '02