“Open up your eyes, Sarafina!“
You know those phrases that just stay in your mind forever? This one from the 1992 film Sarafina! has lingered in my mind ever since I watched the film during my seventh grade social studies unit on apartheid. A supporting character tells the main character Sarafina to “open up [her] eyes” — look beyond immediate troubles and witness the change that is taking place around her. Sarafina initially remained silent, until this turning point made her realize that she too needed to join fellow students and use her voice to stand up against racial discrimination.
This phrase has become especially meaningful and relevant to me nowadays. Amidst this busy season of prelims, essays, p-sets, club activities and recruitment, I had forgotten about what had made me feel impassioned to pursue the study of industrial and labor relations. I disregarded both my personal efforts as well as the people who have helped me get to this point. I neglected my parents’ wishes that by attending this Ivy League university in the United States of America, I would develop a worldview that is much more expansive than their own. Why do I wake up every morning? What motivates me? I overlooked the importance of opening up my eyes to see beyond my little bubble.
I have also been surprised at how many of my peers here at Cornell turn a blind eye to what is taking place outside of Cornell or the U.S. While they note every detail in the Kavanaugh hearings (which I believe is a crucial matter), they pay little to no attention to other major world events such as North Korea peace talks or China’s drastic extension of its economic presence through the Belt and Road Initiative.
While this may be a generalization based on the small sample size of students I have met on this campus, I was surprised to learn that members of an institution that supposedly retains some of the brightest minds of our time and boasts a high degree of diversity don’t seem to care much about the outside world. I have realized that in our own ways, we forget about how nearsighted we can be in living our day to day life.
I urge you to explore all that is taking place in your immediate surroundings, as well as happenings outside of your reach. During my stay in New York City this past summer, I became more aware of the racial and class disparities that I had learned about in class and through campus discourse. I honestly did not fully understand the importance of issues of race, until I witnessed how almost none of the grocery store cashiers, taxi or Uber drivers, and subway operators I encountered were white.
I also developed a greater appreciation of all that the city has to offer — its history, culture, and perseverance. The coexistence of the 1902-constructed Flatiron Building and the 2013 One Madison left me at awe, just thinking about all of the people, past and present, that have walked along the very streets that I stood on. I was finally able to see the Jimmy Carter quote engraved in RPCC come to life: “We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.”
My first visit to Africa in August has made me further realize that there is so much of the world I don’t know about. While donkeys are the main modes of transportation for many villagers living on the outskirts of Sudan’s capital Khartoum, the rich spend their time in luxurious restaurants and cafes in the 5-star Corinthia Hotel. I also did not know that our 3.2-million-year-old ancestor “Lucy” was located in Ethiopia until I learned about her in the National Museum of Ethiopia. My visits to these places made me realize that there is so much that I have yet to discover, and yet I continue to focus my attention on the narrow boundaries of this campus.
I need to remind myself of all that I have learned through schooling and experience over the past 21 years of my life. During the academic year, I live like a mayfly and focus on living for today, often against my own will. As we begin a new month, as temperatures begin to drop, as the workload piles up, I hope you will join me in striving to open up my eyes and look past immediate struggles to explore all that is out there in this vast world.
DongYeon (Margaret) Lee is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Here, There and Everywhere appears alternate Tuesdays this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.