BC Community Remembers Nine In COVID-19 Memorial Ceremony

President Michelle Anderson addresses the crowd./John Schilling

By John Schilling


   Members of the Brooklyn College community gathered in front of Roosevelt Hall on Thursday, Apr. 14 for the COVID-19 Memorial Ceremony, a gathering to remember the nine Brooklyn College faculty and staff members who passed away due to the pandemic. Those commemorated ranged in ages from 31 to 81.

   The memorial ceremony remembered Computer and Information Science Undergraduate Deputy Chair Moshe Augenstein; Health, Nutrition, Sciences, and Kinesiology Professor Kenneth Axen; Theater Professor Mark Blum; retired Physics Professor Peter J. Brancazio; Philosophy Department Office Manager Jay Jankelewicz; Human Resources Manager Juliet Manragh; Classics Professor James (Jim) Pletcher; retired Music Professor Paul Shelden; and Computer and Information Science Professor Aaron Tenenbaum.

   “These losses brought sorrow and an emptiness in our hearts and our lives that is hard to measure and hard to describe,” said Brooklyn College President Michelle Anderson in opening remarks. “But death itself was not the only loss. In many circumstances, the pandemic robbed us not only of our loved ones but the opportunity to say goodbye.”

The tree planted in honor of the lives lost due to COVID-19./John Schilling

   An effort to do just that was ultimately the inspiration for the ceremony, which was put together by a planning committee made up of students, faculty, and staff. This included Vice President for Student Affairs Ron Jackson; Special Assistant to the President Zunera Ahmed; USG Senators Ryan Fratello and Sadiya Hoque; USG Press Director Jana Taoube; Professor Timothy Shortell, chairperson of the Sociology Department; Professor Ellen Tremper, chairperson of the English Department; Randall Clarke, director of the Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge (SEEK) Program; Jesús Pérez, director of the Immigrant Student Success Office (ISSO); and Tony Thomas, chief officer of Legal Affairs and Labor Relations.

   After opening remarks from President Anderson, the ceremony continued with a poetry recital by Monique Ngozi Nri, a poet who graduated from Brooklyn College in 2021 with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and the director of CUNY EDGE at Brooklyn College. Ngozi Nri recited “Covidium Sestina,” a poem she wrote in 2020 that reflects the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic, as well as the hope that America would ultimately overcome the challenges it brought about.

   “We fondly hope that there will come a night when we can meet each other at the fence, drink champagne…and laugh together humbly as Americans, losing all sense of this foreboding, forgetting now the sad sounds of sirens,” read Ngozi Nri. 

   Following the poem, the ceremony continued with friends and colleagues sharing their memories of those lost within the Brooklyn College family, all of whom spoke of their dedication to the school, recalled their many accomplishments, and noted what made them special.

   “He was known as a compassionate, available teacher, who maintained contact with many students long after they were in his class, supporting them in their lives and careers,” said Health and Nutrition Sciences Assistant Professor Margrethe Horlyck-Romanovsky of Prof. Kenneth Axen. “[…] His original thinking and ability to integrate math and basic science into his explanations, and a bit of philosophy, made him a stimulating research mentor to undergraduate, Master’s, and Doctoral candidates.”

   “Jim shared with everyone around him his loves and passions, frequently marked by heartfelt discussions about British 80s pop music, Pittsburgh sports, the Greek novel, and everything in between,” said Classics Assistant Professor Brian P. Sowers of Prof. Jim Pletcher. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss my friend, and I [instinctively] reach to my phone at least once a week to send him a text.”

   To further honor the lives lost, members of the Conservatory of Music’s brass ensemble performed George Frideric Handel’s “Lascia Ch’io Pianga,” a somber aria reflective of loss and the sense of weeping that comes with that pain. The piece was performed by a trio of Ryan Martin on trumpet, Steven Alesso on baritone, and Justin Laurenceau on trombone.

   The memorial came to an end with an invitation from Vice President for Student Affairs Ron Jackson, who drew everyone’s attention to a planted tree with a red ribbon located on the small lawn of grass to the left of Roosevelt Hall. Although the memorial focused on the lives lost within the Brooklyn College community, Jackson urged all in attendance to come up to the microphone, share the name of someone they lost due to COVID-19, and pour a cup of water on the tree in their memory.

   “This tree will symbolize and honor the people that we’ve lost and will serve as an on-campus location to perpetually pay tribute to our beloved community members,” said Jackson. “May this tree grow in their remembrance.”