Based on Research By Ashley Daniel

Dean Peter Rodriguez reflects on a storm-tossed season and a school’s resilient spirit.

The momentum of a fantastic year at Rice Business accelerated through the spring and set us on course for an even better fall. Record-busting cohorts of students arrived in the heat of summer alongside preparations for a hybrid-online MBA program and investments all around the school. With the wind at our backs, I couldn’t wait to kick-off a new academic year.

The old caution about life and uncertainty played over and over in my mind during the relentless rains that weekend, “Wanna make God laugh? Tell him about your plans.” All that we lived and witnessed during the storm and after will likely be the story of the year for our city, our university, our school and our communities. The story, however, isn’t that the waters rose, that thousands of lives were upended or that Houston was devastated. The story is the reaction to the storm from the people in it and all who came to help.

Across the region, a few hundred yards meant the difference between families that were high and dry or waist-deep in flood waters, stranded on rooftops and upper floors. Within urban and suburban neighborhoods a few inches of elevation made the difference between safety and upheaval. Those hit hardest face a long road to recovery. Everybody else knows, it could have been them.

The hurricane brought loss and pain to tens of thousands, if not more, and set back many family’s finances for years. There is nothing good at all about Hurricane Harvey. And yet, because of the storm we had the opportunity to recall what matters most to us, and to recall that these are the same things for all of us. Because in a flood aid is inherently local, we have the opportunity to witness what it means to be a good neighbor, friend, colleague, stranger, Houstonian. We have the opportunity to fulfill a noble purpose in service of many we know and more that we don’t. We felt the power in knowing our time and energy bring mercy to those in need and that even the small things we do for each other matter greatly. We have the opportunity to live our values, not simply debate them.

If Harvey succeeded in teaching us an unwanted lesson about humility and our vulnerability to the most basic forces, it also allowed us to genuinely connect with our city and replenish our faith in each other. The ache to find a silver lining in the aftermath of destruction should not eclipse our understanding of how much has been lost and the emotional toll still being felt. But let these lessons continue to drive our heightened compassion and endure far longer than the recovery from this awful storm.

Reading about the remarkable generosity of everyone around us I came upon a short post on social media that seemed to capture a truth made plain by the moment. It seemed a touch maudlin, but, if anything, it understated the prevailing sentiments. It started, ‘Now more than ever, people need you to give all that you can. Unfortunately, you simply cannot give away what people need most. You can give away food, you can give away clothes, you can give away shelter and you can give away money. But, you can never give love away. It just keeps coming back.’

With sincere thanks to all who gave generously, led selflessly and continue to inspire, I’m pleased to write the final Harvey sign-off.

Stay Safe, Stay Connected.

Peter

This letter first appeared in the fall issue of Rice Business Magazine.