There is an old adage, “May you live in interesting times” that gets erroneously attributed to a Chinese curse. While it could be interpreted to be a blessing, it is used ironically because of the clear implication that “interesting times” are fraught with upheaval and insecurity.
The fact that we are living in an “interesting age” is something that the young men and women of my generation came to terms with remarkably fast. If someone told me five years ago that my final college days would be accompanied by social unrest, political upheaval, and a global pandemic followed by the biggest drop in the economy since the Great Depression, I would have not believed them for a second.
On a personal level, 2020 was the year where I believed things would finally settle down for me. I went through difficult times throughout my college career. My father lost his job, my remaining grandparents passed away, and I struggled to get the family back on their feet after my father’s health issues left him unable to work for a year. Luckily, he’s back on his feet and working again and we’re in a stable position, but the journey took time and effort.
As with the experience of any other student, college was a time of deep transformation. I came out of my shell as I tried my best to juggle my personal challenges with my ever demanding college career and my work schedule. It was during this time that I truly became an adult as people began to depend on me, not just in leadership positions at school, but at home. With the start of the new decade, I thought it would be a fresh start where I could focus on starting my career in earnest and celebrate overcoming the challenges that almost threatened to drown me.
That story was too simple, too clear cut, and perhaps too idealistic. Here’s another old adage: Murphy’s Law – anything that can go wrong will go wrong. If this year’s memes are anything to go by, 2020 is the year everything goes wrong. The optimistic bliss of a new decade did not last long with the onset of the pandemic.
I lost the last 8 weeks of my final semester, and my post-graduation job was rescinded. However, those losses are contextualized by recent events. Amid the immense loss of life due to the coronavirus, the brutal murder of a black man by a police officer in Minneapolis, the protests against police brutality toward minorities, and the economic hardships of millions of Americans – it is hard to complain.
I count myself lucky. Although I was looking forward to graduation and the pomp and circumstance that goes along with the traditional ceremony, at least I am alive and those I love have not been touched personally by tragedy. I do not deny the validation of the real feelings of disappointment and loss that I and many of my peers experienced. It hurts when things do not go as planned, but I believe that my generation is presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to enact real change.
We did not choose to live in an interesting time. It chose us.
During this difficult time, we see the tenacity and willingness of millions of young people that have chosen to step up to the challenges we face as a country with determination and grace. We are not yet in positions of political power to change things, but we believe in demanding change and are taking to the streets, holding those in power accountable with our voices to bring on a much-needed transformation of American life.
This generation is presented with the right set of circumstances to pave the way for a more compassionate and empathetic world. We can change the way we think about others who are different. We can shift the way we work, the way we create media and the way we enact policies that affect our most vulnerable communities. It is the chance of a lifetime, and we owe it to past generations who always dreamed of creating transformative change in America to seize the opportunity to create a better, more equitable society.
For the past couple of years, our nation has been walking on eggshells. Today my generation gets a chance to lay the first brick to a new path. I know it won’t be easy. It will take a great deal of passion and a relentless push for change, not just today, for months from now, for years from now, and even for the generations that follow us.
The Class of 2020 will be defined by this moment of national crisis and cultural change, just like the generation who fought against fascism during World War II. Perhaps it is not the future we envisioned, but it is our duty as citizens and human beings to bring upon the change we want to see in the world, it might turn out to be the best graduation gift of all.
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