Emily Merritt’s Story

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It’s Monday April 22nd, and as I write this, I am experiencing a wonderful feeling of relief that I am finally able to reflect and ultimately move on from the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings.  While I am obviously relieved that the threat to public safety has been contained, my true happiness comes from being able to move forward from the happenings of last week.  It’s not that my heart doesn’t ache for the victims and the injured, it does.  But that heartache is the reason why I want to move on. I need a break from it.  I need to return to some sense of normalcy.

I have been drawn into all of the media hype, and despite knowing that a great deal of the initial reports we received had huge factual errors, I still found myself glued to news stations, twitter, and any online articles I could find.  Since I live in Brighton I was contained to my house for the greater part of Friday.  With nothing to do but stress about the hunt for the second suspect, I felt thoroughly consumed by the severity of the situation.

Despite all of the horrors committed by these men I still feel sympathy for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  He is so young, a college student, and I feel like somewhere along the way our society and our school system failed him.  I feel guilty that at 19 years old someone could experience so much hatred and be so filled with the will to commit these evil acts.  And like so many others, I feel the need to know why.  I need to know what went wrong for him.

And yet, I also recognize that it is unlikely I will ever receive satisfactory answers to these questions.  Therefore, for my own health and happiness, I need to let it go.  I believe my need for normalcy is echoed in students’ experiences on campus.  While it is important the victims be honored, and students have to opportunity to grieve and work through these tragedies, in my experience, many students are ready to move forward.

Last Tuesday, going into our first day back at school and work after the marathon bombings, I had a heightened awareness of how I was interacting with students.  Every Tuesday I normally run a career conversation series with a BC alumnus and current undergraduate students.  Last week our guest was Ryan Harms, director of digital production at a Boston advertising firm. Working in downtown Boston, Ryan emailed me early Tuesday to ask if we would still be holding the workshop.  After confirming with my supervisor, we decided that given the high level of student interest in the event we should avoid cancelling.  However, we wanted to proceed cautiously, recognizing that this might not be a normal career conversation, and we were willing to let the conversation steer itself if students felt the need to address the marathon bombings.

For me it was important not to force the conversation to go there if that was not what the students were looking for.  Since students were already overloaded with images of the explosions on the news, social media, and in their classes, I thought it was just as important for the students to experience a sense of normalcy and productivity.  But I also wanted it to be clear that it was a safe space for discussion and reflection if that was what they needed.  As it turned out, despite opening and closing the conversation with a brief acknowledgment of the week’s events, the students were very focused on questioning Ryan about his career.  I think, like me, these students needed to feel like they were moving forward and their day had direction.  Reflecting upon the conversation, Ryan said, “I almost forgot about the Marathon context myself. An energetic group of young people can go a long way towards providing a great distraction.”

While it is important to provide a safe space to work through the tragedies of last week, I feel like part of my purpose as a higher education professional is to support students efforts to move forward with their lives.  Now that we have had an opportunity to reflect and attempt to process these acts of terrorism, it is critical to not let them ruin the good things in our lives.  I believe that is what is meant by the “Boston Strong” statement, by continuing to move forward with our lives and do good, we can prevent terrorism from taking its hold on our city and our lives.

Emily Merritt was a Master’s candidate in the Boston College Higher Education program and a Graduate Assistant in Career Services at Boston College at the time of the Boston Marathon tragedy. The author’s views are their own and do not represent those of any institution, entity or individual.  You can reach out to Emily directly via tweet or email.  Please feel free to share this on your social network of choice using the link icons below.  We also welcome you to share your reactions and stories in the comments section below so we may all benefit from your thoughts and wisdom. 

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