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To the Future!

The perils and joys of time capsules.

Brian W. Simpson, Editor
By Brian W. Simpson, MPH ’13, Editor • Photo by Aliberti/Wikimedia

One day when I was 8 or 9, I unscrewed the door handle of a small closet in my bedroom. Beside the spindle, I inserted a rolled-up piece of paper.

On that meticulously folded sheet, I had scrawled a few sentences. I wanted to send a message to the future.

During a holiday visit home when I was in my early 30s, I remembered my time capsule and hauled a crew of nieces and nephews up to my old room. The mod, orange bedspread and carpet had disappeared, as had the Frederic Remington print of a horseman in full gallop.

With great fanfare, I unscrewed the door handle and, … nothing. I removed the other closet’s door knob. Inside, I found just the mechanism, air and disappointment. My note was likely lost when the room was repainted in the 1980s.

Yet that initial exhilaration I felt in posting a note to the future rushed back to me last year when a School Centennial meeting veered into the possibility of creating a time capsule. My immediate thought was: “Cool!” Imagine the opportunity to communicate with our public health descendants.

As you can see in Collections, the Centennial Time Capsule is a reality. Faculty generously contributed their tools of the trade (thanks for the pipettes, Ying Zhang!). Colleagues in the Office of External Affairs contributed Centennial swag—a lapel pin, a scarf, a letter opener. And most interestingly, the School’s deans, faculty, students, staff and alumni penned their thoughts—as did Michael R. Bloomberg. They provided a moving mix of public health hopes, current challenges and assorted musings on progress and the passage of time itself.

We gathered January 27th in the Wolfe Street atrium for the final official act of the School’s remarkable Centennial. (See "Being 100" for the data on how remarkable it was.) The ceremony launched the time capsule with a fun yet bittersweet bon voyage. It will be opened Monday, June 13, 2116—200 years to the day after the School was founded.

We’ll all be gone by then, of course, but I’ve got a hunch our message to the future will make it home.

P.S. – Time inevitably brings change. We’re still adjusting to the fact that associate editor, writer and friend Maryalice Yakutchik has moved on to an opportunity at Jhpiego. Her amazing cover story is “The Patient Researcher.” All best, Maryalice!

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