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A year of change; For New Year's Eve, a quick look back at some watershed moments of 2011

Well, that was a year, for sure. In politics, business, education, the arts, the community, 2011 is one to remember. Life moves so fast these days that most of us probably won't, but this was a year that things changed, and often for the better.

For example, Osama bin Laden was alive for the first 121 days of this year. On the 122nd day, that changed for the better. Congratulations to Navy Seal Team 6 for its skill and courage in carrying out the risky operation and to President Obama for having the nerve to order it.

A scythe ran through the public leadership of Erie County. First it was former Rep. Chris Lee, the married congressman who sent recklessly silly pictures of himself to a woman he met online. In September, Buffalo School Superintendent James A. Williams stepped down after the School Board worked up the nerve to give him a shove. Last month, County Executive Chris Collins fell to his nemesis, Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz.

Lee, if you don't count his dabbling in photography, was a decent congressman, but the Republican was replaced -- to almost everyone's surprise -- by former Erie County Clerk Kathleen C. Hochul, a Democrat. She has made a strong start, and although she is a member of the House minority, congressional Republicans seem to be in the midst of committing political suicide. At some point, probably sooner rather than later, things will change.

Buffalo is well rid of Williams, who couldn't overcome his own abrasiveness. Whoever is selected is likely to be an improvement, as interim Superintendent Amber Dixon already is. Collins had his moments -- good and bad -- and Poloncarz remains an unwritten chapter. All in all, though, the changes have been for the better.

So has this month's dramatic announcement that Say Yes to Education, a private foundation with a record of improving urban education, has agreed to partner with the Buffalo Public Schools. Under its influence, all students can have a guaranteed college education -- if they perform. It's a game-changer whose benefits can echo down generations of children.

More? How about the reopening of the old Statler Hotel, whose threatened demolition would have left a hole not only at one of Buffalo's premier addresses, but in its heart? What about movement on the Buffalo waterfront and plans to reuse the vacated Donovan State Office Building? What about the National Preservation Conference that gave Buffalo its best shot of good publicity in years?

Yes, there have been pain and losses. The suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer, a bullied high school freshman, tore at the soul of Western New York. Here, and around the world, people mourned unexpected deaths, such as those of Amy Winehouse and Rick Martin, and even those of people who had lived long and productive lives, including Andy Rooney, Peter Falk and, locally, Dr. Herbert A. Hauptman, who died at age 94.

Japan is still reeling from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated part of the country and caused a nuclear crisis. Debris from the March catastrophe began washing up on the coast of British Columbia this month. But in the Middle East, the Arab Spring swept away several despotic regimes, including that of Libya's late and unlamented Moammar Gadhafi, who met the violent end he had courted for decades.

Change is the constant -- last year, this year, next year. It is inevitable and, as we saw many times this past year, it is often welcome. Here's to more of the good kind in 2012.

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