It was about a month ago and just a mile or so from campus that five Trinity freshman were involved in a very serious one car accident. I ought to know, as my daughter, Sarah Billman, was in the backseat of that car.
They were doing what teenagers do: enjoying each other’s company, living in the moment and seeking the thrills of life.
Circumstances were far from kind on that night. One student, Corey Byrnes, died at the scene and two others were gravely injured and are still far from recovered.
What to make of this?
We have all “thrown caution to the wind” at one time or another, in one-way or another. Why on that night did it have to end in tragedy?
Sorry, I have no answer.
I do want to speak about what I do know.
First, the sentiments that follow are mine but are echoed by all the families directly involved.
What I know for sure is that five families, in an instant, had their world rocked. In one case, there was an irreplaceable loss and for the others, varying degrees of physical pain, emotional misery, shock, loss and a continued sense of uncertainty and (to be honest) guilt about the “how, why, who and what.”
What I also know for sure is that these families have pulled together, supported one another and have tried to shoulder each other’s pain.
What I didn’t see coming (and this is really why I am writing today) is that we had no idea how much care and comfort we would receive from Trinity.
At the top of a pyramid of support was Dean Tuttle. In the middle of the night he held my daughter’s hand as the ER team worked on her. His calm voice steadied us and provided regular updates as my wife and I raced to the hospital from Plano. He juggled the different concerns of five families, the media, the police and hospital personnel. If this was new territory for him (and I hope and believe it was), it didn’t show.
Sunday night bled into Monday morning and beyond. The dean kept going. Also, residential life coordinator Rachel Boaz (who also hadn’t seen any sleep) helped coordinate things for all of us. We would be at the hospital nearly nonstop for days to come and we had arrived with the shirts on our backs and nearly nothing else.
Soon we met Leni Kirkman, the Vice President of patient relations for the University (hospital) Health System. Guess what? Leni is a proud Trinity alumna and like so many others was on call for us “24/7” while treating us like VIPs.
Dr. Richard Reams, a Trinity counselor, met with us at the hospital and lead a helpful family get together. Clergy was also available and was supportive yet never intrusive.
Campus housing was offered and utilized. This grand home became a base of support as numerous alumni families, lead by resident life director Wanda Olson, brought homemade meals and all kinds of delicious treats. Offers were made to help with everything from airport transportation to laundry.
Academic concerns surfaced as the medical situation stabilized for our daughter. There were a million questions such as: How do “incomplete” grades work?
Fortunately, Dr. Sheryl Tynes, vice president for academic affairs, had a million answers. She met with us on short notice on a day I bet she wouldn’t have been on campus. Together we mapped out a general academic plan that Sarah presented to her professors who then made generous accommodations for completion of her work, balanced with the academic standards of the university.
Finally, the student body at large forms the base of the pyramid of support. The entire mood on campus reflected a sense of loss.
Soon heartfelt messages of support from friends and strangers alike were on display in the dorm rooms and at the library. I expected a few dozen people to attend the memorial service; after all it was a busy Monday for students with the end of the semester approaching. My estimate was off. The chapel was full. Full of students. Full of love and support.
Once again I underestimated this special community that is Trinity University.
To be part of it is to be very lucky indeed.
-Dave and Sheryl Billman