Many of us, myself included, sit in our childhood bedrooms at home. Maybe we share them. Maybe we have since moved. Maybe we thought we wouldn’t stay here for longer than a week again. My wall still shouts blue and green polka dots, and posters reflect middle school fads. I feel like taking them down, but redecorating is an acknowledgement that I am here permanently — that I am stuck.
I wonder what the old knick-knacks on my bookshelf, trophies I attributed so much value to and notes from people I don’t talk to anymore would say to me if they could talk. Maybe I’m just in desperate need of human contact. Nonetheless, I reflect now on the hope etched into those objects — markers of a life where I dreamed big and believed I could do anything I set my mind to. I ask myself, “How did I feel when I was here, four years ago?” when I believed that a Yale acceptance made me invincible. When I thought that indulging in dreams wasn’t naive if I worked hard enough.
That invincibility chipped away as I grew older. Yale opened doors, but I also could clearly see all the obstacles, even if an Ivy League degree helped overcome many. My calculus shifted to thinking about how to pay for graduate school and if I could realistically live in a big city as opposed to the far-off dreams of publishing a book or holding office. Even at Yale, people always pressure us to be realistic, and rarely to be idealistic — just look at how many go into consulting.
In your 20s, you’re supposed to feel invincible. Maybe that explains all the spring breakers on Florida beaches. (Seriously, not cool). I feel like for us, that invincible feeling will — and is — wearing off a lot quicker. Our generation has already had its share of unique experiences. Look at the 2016 election, the pandemic and the accompanying recession. I’m scared for how the 2020 election will turn out. The world doesn’t seem to have room for people who are still stubborn enough to change it.
We feel lost and hopeless and disillusioned. And why shouldn’t we be? We are right to be angry at structures that have put younger generations at a huge disadvantage. This pandemic will cause incredible loss. I just hope that it will not crush our resolve to want progress, and believe that we can still make it. That out of great loss comes more change if we haven’t given up hope — change both sweeping and small. Though we are absolutely not physically invincible (keep social distancing!), we can become more emotionally resilient.
I’m scared that more people will be drawn to careers that they don’t really want just because they’re secure. I want my friends to join political campaigns and believe in better futures. I hope my pre-med friends still become doctors and healthcare professionals because the world needs them, even if they aren’t supported as much as they deserve. I want people to keep writing because one day our descendants will want to know how we felt, what people did, how we reacted. If anything, we need these stubbornly optimistic, maybe too idealistic people more than ever. They will be the visionaries who create much-needed solutions.
I want us to remain optimistic. Today, this seems like a heavy ask. But I think it’s necessary if we are to overcome loss and grow from it. We’re inundated with stories of toilet paper hoarding and people not taking social distancing seriously. But I think one of the best ways to be optimistic is to find solace in the small ways people have contributed — whether that be Yale students taking the initiative to deliver groceries across cities or sewing masks. These instances are reminders that small-scale change is just as significant as broader, drastic change.
Being confined to my childhood bedroom is an extremely humbling feeling. But it also reminds me to be hopeful — to cling onto the perhaps naive hope that there is still room for change. My friends call me a stubborn idealist, but I refuse to take that as an insult.
HALA EL SOLH is a senior in Berkeley College. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .