Our NECO Family

Two weeks ago, I went home to Buffalo, New York for a long weekend to celebrate my mother’s birthday. We had Monday the fifteenth off from school for Patriot’s Day, also known as Marathon Monday, and I was set to fly back to Boston that night. While packing my suitcase to return to the city, I received a text message from my boyfriend who works at the Prudential Center saying that he had heard explosions coming from nearby Copley Square. I texted him back asking what he meant, and anxiously checked news websites on my phone to try to understand what was going on. No one had picked up the coverage yet, but when I checked Facebook I was able to understand from my classmates in the city that the two explosions had occurred near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

It was difficult for me to comprehend what was going on. I texted friends from NECO, knowing that they were more than likely out watching the marathon and was alarmed because we live so close to the finish line that some of them may have been there. What I didn’t know was that cell phone service had been suspended and none of them could answer me, until I went back to check my class’s group on Facebook. We use it as a class almost daily to communicate with each other about deadlines, college events, and news, and we post if we have any questions for our classmates. Our class president, Ting Zhang, had posted to ask whether everyone was okay, and every few minutes, as I repeatedly refreshed the page, people were posting about where they were and confirming that they were safe. Only a few hours after the explosions went off, Ting was able to confirm that everyone in our class was safe and accounted for.

Almost immediately after the bombings, the college Emergency Notification System informed us about the events in Copley Square. All students and staff were e-mailed to evacuate the building and within hours we were told that the college would be closed the next day. Every hour or so, we received updates from NECO via e-mail answering any questions we may have had about the impact of the explosions. The very next day, we were reassured via email by the college president, Dr. Scott, that all NECO students and staff had been accounted for and were safe.

I flew back to Boston the night of the fifteenth to an eerily silent city. I was relieved to be back in contact with my NECO friends once cell phone service had resumed, although school was closed Tuesday and we were encouraged to remain inside. When we returned to school Wednesday I was glad to see the college community showing nothing but kindness and support for one another in the wake of the tragedy. Some classmates had been nearby on Boylston Street when the bombings took place, and others had friends running in the marathon that they had been relieved to hear from. Our routine and complacency were jarred again on Friday, when the city and surrounding areas went into lockdown as police and special forces searched for the perpetrators. Yet again, NECO administration and classmates were prompt and thorough in informing students and staff about the lockdown. At six a.m. we were notified via the College’s Emergency Notification System about the situation in Watertown, and by seven were informed that the school would remain closed and that we should remain in our homes.

I cannot overstate how impressed I and the other students are with the immediacy and thoroughness of the College’s response to the senseless and tragic events of Marathon Monday and its aftermath. In addition to extremely prompt updates and notifications about the ongoing events from NECO administration, we were contacted by professors emphasizing safety and working to extend deadlines and reschedule classes and labs that would be missed. We also were e-mailed resources about dealing with shock and grief, given an emotional help phone line to call, and were assured that the College would do everything in its power to help students deal with the emotional aspects of Monday’s events.

After nearly two years at the New England College of Optometry, I have never stopped being amazed at how the school treats its students. You will never find here that you are just another number; the College dedicates itself to making sure that each individual student has the resources he or she needs to be a successful and healthy student and future optometric professional. The instant you cross the threshold of NECO on your first day of classes you become part of a tight-knit community that, in addition to fostering academic excellence, encourages its members to truly care about one another as individuals and to help each other face any challenge. During this tragedy, we NECO students felt our sense of community expand to encompass the entire city of Boston, as we all united in the face of the tragic events of Marathon Monday. I cannot express the depth of the heartache we feel for the victims of the bombings and their families, just as it is difficult for me to state how incredible the response of the police and emergency responders, as well as the city of Boston itself, was to ensuring the safety of the public. NECO is more like a family than a school, and in the past few weeks we have become part of a larger family – the city of Boston. Together we will remain strong and resilient, united with a sense of love and compassion for one another.