On March 13, 2020, Eastern Christian Dean Mr. Philip Verrengia found himself facing an uncertain future once again. As practically everything in the country closed due to the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 that was devastating the country, the overwhelming feeling of uncertainty for the future that gripped the nation was more like an old friend to Mr. Verrengia.
51 years ago, in August 1969, Mr. Verrengia entered Eastern Christian as a freshman. The June before, America had just won the space race by putting the first ever man on the moon, and the Cold War was coming to a close. The Vietnam War would rage in full force for the entirety of Mr. Verrengia’s high school tenure, only to end two years after he graduated. The turmoil going on in the world around him provided Mr Verrengia with a uniquely uncertain high school tenure.
“Uncertainty surrounded my time at Eastern Christian. As I was going into high school, my brother had just graduated from the Naval Academy as a pilot. We spent a lot of time not knowing if he was going to see active duty in Vietnam,” said Mr. Verrengia. “On top of that a friend from church got drafted, and that question of if the draft would be on when I turned 18 was always looming.”
After Mr. Verrengia graduated from Eastern Christian, he eventually went on to pursue a life as a middle school teacher at Timothy Christian School. Like many life plans, his was derailed by a friend who asked him to apply for a job at ECHS, and despite no original intention of being a high school teacher, Mr. Verrengia found himself as a newly married man, newly certified teacher, a recent father, and the newest addition to ECHS’ High School staff. This tenure at ECHS would be no less surrounded by uncertainty.
Despite not planning on becoming a teacher, Mr Verrengia settled into his teaching position, and eventually found himself unexpectedly taking on a role in administration as dean. During the many years serving in these positions, he has been involved in dealing with much of the economic and social uncertainty that have surrounded the past 40 years.
“I remember in the 80s there was a lot of economic uncertainty, the same in the recession in 2006,” recalled Mr Verrengia. “Think about 9/11 as well. It was terrifying to be in school listening to the radio as we realized our country was under attack… after that we had no idea what was coming next.”
This unrest made him extremely well versed in navigating hard situations with no clear end in sight. So, as news came in that the country was going to shut down due to COVID-19, Mr. Verrengia found himself in a position once again where he faced an increasingly uncertain future, but he was equipped to handle this pandemic with a unique perspective.
When asked to share what he had learned from such a storied time at the school, Mr. Verrengia said, “It’s important to keep a good perspective. Since I have been at ECHS as a teacher, I have had the privilege of teaching all of my kids and experiencing the special relationships that come with that. It's a privilege to be able to be a part… of a complex community that values the school, church, and family working together. We have to keep perspective of our privilege, because we can get through this.”
Ultimately, though this pandemic may be new in nature, the uncertainty that it has thrust into the lives of everyone at ECHS right now is, as shown by the life of Mr. Verrengia, nothing new.
When interviewed, Mr. Verrengia kept circling back to the idea of God’s sovereignty through times like these.“Even though [ECHS] is constantly reinventing itself, the message is always the same. All of life is supposed to be lived for God. The way we do that will change with the times, but the message never will.”