Resiliency and Emerging from Tragedy

Fewer than 15 months ago, Hurricane Maria made landfall in the southeastern corner of Puerto Rico, my native country. For a day, winds and gusts on the order of 150 miles per hour ravaged every inch of the island and its 3.4 million people. It was accompanied by extraordinarily heavy rains. Not much was left standing at the end of the day. In the days that followed, families, including my own, were sending children and the aged off the island. The official death count totaled 2,975, making the storm the deadliest U.S.-based natural disaster in a century. It is also estimated that more than 200,000 individuals left the island after the storm. Many have not returned, and recovery continues to be painfully slow.

Just one day before the hurricane hit Puerto Rico, Mexico City suffered a devastating earthquake that killed hundreds. It occurred 32 years to the day of an even deadlier tremor in 1985. We also saw Hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastate large parts of our country. Since then we have seen another horrifying tsunami in Indonesia and seemingly unstoppable fires in California — and many other natural disasters in between.

Human tragedies also abound. Carnage in Las Vegas, too many school shootings to count, wanton killings in nightclubs, offices, entertainment venues, and places of worship.

Some tragedies hit closer to home. During the past 15 months we have struggled to understand the tragic death of several students — some accidental, some self-inflicted, and some in otherwise unimaginable circumstances. We find ourselves in the midst of navigating trauma ourselves, trying to explain the unexplainable.

At times like these, we must take care of ourselves and fight for each other. Tragedies are all different in nature. Nevertheless, I find commonalities in the way we react to them. We are commonly left looking for answers that never come. We feel sadness, anger, and helplessness. At times, we feel we have all the answers and that nobody else could possibly understand or grieve as much as we do. We are quick to assign blame and tempted to fall into an “us versus them” mentality.

Finding a path forward isn’t easy, but we must. Tragedy changes us. We move ahead carrying its scars. But, even scarred, great people and institutions emerge from tragedies with stronger foundations. We do not forget. Instead, we learn and weave the experience into a new and better future. That new future can be achieved only with the concerted effort of all members of the community.

Georgia Tech is an extraordinary institution, one that for 133 years has acted and led boldly, sometimes in areas where others dare not go. We must continue to strive to be an institution that honors and demands of ourselves a community bolstered by civility, mutual trust, and a respect of ideas and the opinions of all individuals.

Let us come together not only in times of tragedy but also build a culture that celebrates togetherness as a shared value as we reach out to use our knowledge, expertise, and engagement to benefit our world.

Now, and in the future, the conversation will always be about us — together.

-Rafael L. Bras


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