In mid-March of 2020, my classmates and I received an email—clear, concise, and heart wrenching: there would be no more in-person classes this year at Fordham University, and we would all need to return home. The last few months of my senior year were suddenly taken away. I felt numb, and then, I felt broken. What was supposed to be a few months of joy and celebration, leading up to the proudest achievement of my young life, was replaced with hasty, tearful goodbyes. I didn’t know when I would see my friends again.

Then SBU shut down. I had a feeling it was coming but tried not to think about it. SBU in-person tutoring was canceled until early April, then later in April, then for the rest of the year. It didn’t feel real. Just a few days before, I had been in the classroom for eighth-grade tutoring, and then Sophomore Skills, replacing high-fives with elbow bumps to keep safe, but not thinking much of it. Coronavirus was the punchline to a joke, not the scary reality that it became just a few weeks later. My instinct was to spiral even further—to let this bad news pile up until I had no more sadness to give. Instead, though, I’ve found comfort in reflecting on my last three years and what a privilege they have been.

When I first stepped off the train at 149th Street in September of 2017, I had no idea what was in store for the next three years. A few months later, I received a student-signed Christmas card that read, “Merry Christmas, Jack. Even though we don’t really talk that much,” I got the feeling it was going to be a short-lived experience. But I’m so glad I was wrong. Since that fateful, awkward fall semester, I’ve gotten to know many of you in the SBU community well.

I’ve seen some of you grow from baby-faced middle schoolers with the confidence (and, sometimes, the ego) of Premier League stars into thoughtful, mature, and amazing young men and women. On the field, I’ve seen you mount dramatic comebacks, blowouts, and top-of-the-table league victories. I’ve seen you roll into tutoring, already exhausted from a long day of school, only to then run drills in practice, knowing more responsibilities wait for you at home. I’ve seen some of you come into SBU knowing little English and, in no time at all, pick up a brand-new language better than I ever could. Some of you even started small businesses that celebrate your heritage or raise money for homeless shelters. 

When our world suddenly changed this March, I also took my cues from you. I looked for an example of how to be resilient and brave in the face of a crisis, and I found it in the actions of SBU students. Staring down a hardship that no young person should have to go through, you all wasted no time feeling sorry for yourselves. Instead, you all focused on how to make the best of it—writing and sharing your artwork in the SBU Voice, staying on top of assignments, and doing team workouts digitally. You even started the weekly “South Bronx Talks” web series, featuring interviews with doctors and famous soccer players.  

Even through my lens, the SBU experience has been about you, the creative and talented individuals who make it the community and the home that it is. In my time, I have proofread an essay or two, done a few math problems, and tried to understand your science projects. But what I remember the most when I think about SBU is not homework; it’s people—the staff and the students. Online tutoring has been a great way to keep up with the work we used to do in person, but I miss the classrooms more than anything. I miss watching you all walk through the door to high-five every one of your friends, learning new pop culture terms that make me feel old at 21, and yelling at you for making TikToks. These memories, though, don’t make me sad. They make me hopeful. 

Having seen what you are all capable of—in the classroom, on the field, and in your daily lives—I am filled with hope that SBU student-athletes are the powerful young women and men who will make the future so much better than the present that, right now, seems scary and bleak. You are part of a generation that will grow up in a world changed by the pandemic, but you will be remembered by how you respond—and have responded—to the challenges facing you. Considering that, I am certain that the world will emerge a fairer and kinder place with you all leading the charge. 

I miss you, SBU: students, staff, volunteers, and 4 Train at 149th. I also miss the endless stairways up to the third floor of Boys Prep, freezing cold games at the Mott Haven campus in November, and gross, humid practices at Macombs Dam in July. But I know I’ll see you again.