Personal Reflections | Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

Personal Reflections

February 24, 2021

Dear IMSA Community,

Today, I want to share with you my Personal Reflections regarding returning to campus, Black History Month, and “Memento Mori.”

Can you believe that we left the IMSA Campus almost a year ago, perhaps thinking that we would return before the end of the academic year? We left campus on March 13, 2020! We have had many firsts, including virtual IMSAloquium, cultural shows, Commencement, admissions selection, orientation, tours, Convocation, etc. Almost a year later, I was pleased to announce that we plan to commence face-to-face instruction at IMSA on April 8, 2021. Thank you for your patience during these many months. I’m sure you are as excited as I am to return to campus. Please see our COVID-19 Response web page for answers to the frequently asked questions we have received regarding repopulation.

Friendly reminder to students, parents or guardians, the deadline to return the Opt-in/Opt-Out Form is Friday, February 26, 2021.

The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. has topped 500,000, all but matching the number of Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined. It is likely that all of us know someone who has passed away. We mourn with those who mourn.

As is our custom, we are celebrating Black History Month. This February, we do so with a deep awareness of the inequities we continue to experience in our country. Our Black Student Union, advised by Dr. Adrienne Coleman, Dr. Anita White and Dennsa Mohamed, and our IMSA Student Productions, advised by Kevin Broy and Bill McGrail, worked together to create a short video series called Our Stories to celebrate someone who inspires them. Someone who inspires us is now in the Executive Building; on January 20, Kamala Harris became the first Black and South Asian American to be sworn in as Vice President of the United States. As we celebrate the achievement of Ms. Harris, we must continue to work to bend the moral universe’s arc toward justice. Another inspiring figure that inspires us is Dr. Angela Davis. We are thrilled to be hosting Dr. Davis for a conversation and fireside chat on Thursday, March 18 for an exclusive Inside the Great Minds virtual event which will be broadcasted via livestream to pre-registered participants.

I want to end my brief Personal Reflection by sharing two quotes from a book I finished reading this month, How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter, by Sherwin B. Nuland. When I told my daughter I was reading this book, she replied, “What’s your obsession with death, Dad?” You see, I had shared with Daniella, my daughter, the phrase and symbol (a skull), “Memento Mori,” which points to the idea “we could leave life at any moment.”

Dr. Nuland writes, “To be declared legally dead, there must be incontrovertible evidence that the brain has permanently ceased to function.” He also says, “In most deaths, the heartbeat ends before the brain ceases to function.” Nuland writes about our physical demise; I believe there are analogies to our spiritual, social, and emotional lives. When we cease to care for others, we, not to mention others, die slowly. It seems to me that during this pandemic, we should not be “socially” distant; we need to remind ourselves to be physically distant, but socially close. Let’s continue to empathize with others, which has its root etymologically to a feeling of passion, lest we cease to be ardent for our own lives.

IMSA family! Let’s continue to be grateful and celebrate. We are beginning to see an end to this pandemic. We have our first Black and South Asian American female to hold the post of vice president. Incidentally, I responded to my daughter that by remembering that we will die (there’s a 100% probability that if we are living, we will die!), we could establish an urgency for living.


José M. Torres, Ph.D.