TGIF: Approaching the finish line for a school year unlike none other

Gene Deason
Editor emeritus
Gene Deason

Those of us who don’t routinely visit a school or university campus probably can’t appreciate what a difficult period the past 12 to 14 months have been. The COVID-19 pandemic forced education officials to make difficult decisions in uncertain times.

 A family friend who’s in the same generation as our daughter, and who works for the same state agency but in different cities, asked me how she was enjoying “working from home.” I think I replied accurately when I said that it might be OK if her husband wasn’t having to work at home too, while they also took turns being remote teachers’ assistants to their second-grade son.

Fortunately, both parents were already well equipped with communications technology, so the child’s iPad — previously used primarily for playing games and viewing episodes of “Bubble Guppies” — was converted to more serious endeavors. As COVID-19 restrictions eased and schools allowed a partial return to their classrooms, their duties changed again.

Not every household was even this prepared going into the pandemic, which tightened its grip on our world just a little over a year ago. Soon, another school term will be ending, and graduation ceremonies will be at hand.

Needless to say, nobody — the community of education included — was ready for the shutdowns that knocked us all for a loop in the springtime of 2020. Shortages of ground beef and toilet paper were the least of our worries as schools gleefully took off for spring break without realizing they wouldn’t return in person until the fall semester — if then.

Pressures on educators, particularly at the elementary and secondary school levels, were already immense. The pandemic only complicated all that.

However, after the natural recess in the school calendar that the summer months provided, the fall semester started in 2020 with more facts regarding how to cope with the pandemic. Plans were devised on how best to continue teaching students of all ages while keeping them as safe as possible while at school.

Several weeks ago, when I arrived for a meeting at Howard Payne University, that point hit home. The atmosphere was upbeat. In the words of Dr. Cory Hines, university president, Howard Payne has “moved forward through the difficulties presented by COVID-19 while making every effort to protect the health and safety of students, personnel, and community.”

That statement was lifted from the president’s message found in the spring 2021 issue of “Link,” the university’s magazine, but it certainly serves to underscore what a visitor on campus witnesses. Without doubt, COVID’s long shadow remains. Signage points to CDC recommendations about health practices, and I joined others who were handed a form asking us to confirm that we had no symptoms of illness. Still, life goes on.

At Howard Payne, does it ever. Even a casual passerby driving along Austin Avenue will see evidence of that.

Construction is well underway for what is being called HPU’s new “front door.” Indeed, that’s the title of the cover story in the aforementioned edition of the “Link” magazine. The completion of the Newbury Family Welcome Center, whose physically-distanced groundbreaking — with face masks provided — was held last June in the midst of the pandemic.

As President Hines also details in his “Link” message, it’s the first new building on campus in 20 years.

Meanwhile, funds are being raised for an extensive renovation of the university’s Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom facility, home to the Guy D. Newman Honors Academy program. A recently announced $600,000 challenge grant from the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation is anchoring the $2 million project.

But as readers will see as they thumb through the “Link,” its primary focus is on people — students past and present as well as the educators who are shaping those students’ futures. I know that for a fact, because 50 years ago, I was one of those students whose future was shaped by those on faculty at the time.

Featured in this spring’s edition are stories about how students and professors in the School of Nursing are helping with Brown County’s COVID-19 vaccination program, how HPU alumni have been honored for their contributions to the public schools where they live, and what the university experience means to current students.

Dr. Hines directs readers to the issue’s closing pages, where Coby Sauce, an HPU graduate and former staff member who once worked with Brownwood Bulletin reporters on campus publicity, penned an upbeat reflection. “God calls His followers to rejoice always in prosperity and adversity,” Dr. Hines writes in his preview of her article. “Here at HPU, we have great cause to be glad in the successes we’ve had and in the adversity through which He sustains us.”

We’ve all worked through different types of adversity over the past year, and hopefully this difficult season will soon be behind us. Rejoicing is good therapy, because it’s also good for the soul.

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at