Supporters of health care workers at Kimberly Hall North, a skilled nursing facility in Windsor, show their appreciation during a drive-through tribute. Cloe Poisson /

There has been an overwhelming song of gratitude sung online, in print and outdoors across our country and in cities around the world for the high-risk work being done by nurses, physicians, health-care technicians and support staff. Equally important are the grocery workers, janitors, cooks and food handlers, sanitation and utility workers, truckers and delivery staff and the many small and large businesses that have been able to remain open to the public, even with today’s social distancing requirements.

Whether tending the sick or selling hardware, food, medicine, gasoline or other essential items, most Americans are responding to this crisis with grace and, considering the circumstances, humility, compassion and general good humor.

John R. Petillo

As we all struggle to maintain contact, adjust to new work rules, toil at home, deal with isolation and adhere to whatever normalcy possible, my thoughts go to the many young people ready to enter the workforce, particularly those who are graduating from colleges and graduate schools now or over the coming weeks.

Among these graduates are a welcome new wave of nurses; physicians; physical, respiratory and occupational therapists; physician assistants; medical researchers and scientists; criminal justice workers and many other freshly minted vocational professionals desperately needed on the front lines. They are ready to buttress the work being done across the state, region and country, offer much-needed support and assistance for those already in these fields and reinforce the exhausted workers who have not had relief since the coronavirus outbreak.

I want to congratulate these students, their mentors and their new or future employers for their courage, tenacity, compassion and hard work. Though following their calling, none of these young professionals could have imagined that their entry into the workforce would be under intense assault from a deadly global virus and the resulting fallout.

Kudos, as well, to the many students heeding the call to service and now enrolling for the fall in such programs as nursing, medicine, health professions, criminal justice, public administration and service and public health—here at Sacred Heart University and across the country. While these areas of expertise have always been important, today’s epidemic has demonstrated how truly vital they are to our wellbeing and survival. The rush to professional education reminds me of the numbers of young Americans enlisting in the military during WWII, and how the rest of the nation rallied to reduce consumption, worked in factories making much-needed supplies and found other ways to support the war effort.

As such, we must work collaboratively to ensure access and affordability to universities, colleges, technical schools and post-graduate programs, reduce or eliminate challenging barriers such as onerous loan interest and education debt and encourage hospitals and other industries to make time for training, apprenticeships and mentoring.

We can pay tribute to today’s and tomorrow’s essential workers by showing them we understand and appreciate their sacrifices, and are doing everything possible to support them and the next generation of their peers.

John J. Petillo, Ph.D., is president of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.

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