We felt like we’d have our own roaring twenties, but this year has felt more like a scream.
Think back to New Year’s Eve of 2019. It feels like so long ago, doesn’t it? The beginning of a new decade and a new semester just a few short weeks later. Many of us felt a kind of hope for this new era — half out of desperation over the dire past several years under our dear authoritarian president and half out of the natural propensity of young people to believe that our best days are always just around the corner, that we age in our twenties like fine wine rather than milk. There’s something fundamentally human about the hope that comes with a new year: the little resolutions we make to better ourselves, the vibrant futures we imagine in our minds as we stare up at fireworks. And on that particular New Year’s Eve, as we counted down the last moments until the beginning of the 2020s — the decade which would include that chaotically beautiful section of our lives known as our own twenties — many felt a sense of true excitement and hope.
And then this year happened…
For many of us, that hope evaporated into something else — disillusionment, heartbreak, a pervading anxiety over the next square to be marked on apocalypse bingo. It’s in that context that we begin this strange new semester — a semester where the classic excitement for the next segment of our collegiate experience is twinged with pangs of nervousness over whether this semester can truly last. There’s that rush of eagerness as you begin your new classes coupled with the sigh you inevitably emit after signing off from the Zoom call even more fatigued than normal. There’s the joy of seeing your friends again coupled with the gnawing unspoken fear that any miscue in social distancing can lead to serious illness. There’s the excitement of progressing one semester closer to graduation coupled with the worry that you’re about to step out into a crumbling world. It’s a semester which feels as though you’ve been tossed the keys to a Porsche with no wheels.
Nine months ago, none of us would have seen all of this coming. It’s not the semester we hoped for, and anyone whose optimism is blind in the face of these challenges is blind to reality. But the truth is that the hope we felt so strongly nine months ago was not false hope. The hope that we felt for our own little roaring twenties can still become a reality. This decade can still be our own. This decade can still roar if we are willing to pull together as a community and fight for it.
This semester is going to be difficult, and we have to embrace that difficulty. With our social gatherings now more limited than ever before, we have to forge purpose in the challenge of staying together even when we’re apart — finding ways to stay closer than ever from afar, to remind those we care about of how much we care about them, to ensure that every member of our community remembers that no Cornellian ever stands alone. With an economic calamity disproportionately hitting lower and middle income Americans, we have to raise our voices like never before to advocate that every member of our community is treated fairly and provided with financial support when they need it. And the organizations, individuals and institutions in our community who are able to do so, must be willing to put their money where their mouths are.
As movements for racial equality push to dismantle the systemic racism ingrained in the institutions of our country, we have to be willing as a community to fight alongside them for racial justice, to have necessary uncomfortable conversations, to be willing to listen with empathy and willing to change. We have to embrace the daily challenge of rooting out white supremacy in all its forms and for privileged members of our community, like myself, challenge ourselves to consider the ways both large and small in which we contribute to injustice and work to change.
With a momentous election looming, we have to work together as a community to ensure that all of us are registered to vote and participating in the political process. Political engagement is not a luxury — it is a duty, and one that is under assault by political leaders blatantly trying to disenfranchise swaths of the population to perpetuate their power. We have to work together to promote political participation, irrespective of ideology or candidate support, in order to make certain that the next political era in this country is one we all truly chose.
We have to embrace the difficulty of pushing ourselves through the crises that form the backdrop of this semester. And that includes pushing our institutions, such as our university administration and our government. Loving Cornell and loving this country does not mean willful ignorance to either’s failings — it means caring passionately about ensuring both live up to their respective responsibilities and potential. It means speaking truth to power even when doing so is unpleasant.
Those who feel anxious and worried about this semester are right to feel that way. Those who feel incredibly excited and happy are also right to feel that way. This is an extraordinarily difficult time in which to hold a semester of classes, yet the start of every semester holds hope. And this one holds even more hope than ever before if we’re willing to embrace its unique challenges. Let the adversity of this semester serve as a catalyst for positive change in our community. Let this semester be the turning point which leads to the roaring twenties we all hoped for.
Andrew V. Lorenzen is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. When We’re Sixty Four runs every other Tuesday this summer.