"OMG that was sooooo long ago! How have these past three years gone by so fast?! Crazy!!"
This is a rough approximation of how many conversations between myself and my roommate have gone this year, reminiscing on the ghosts of freshman past: the flings, friendships, and flubs that feel ages away from where we are now. We scoff at the stance of our world views back then, feeling wizened and slightly smug as we sip our craft beers in overpriced bars. A common theme on Instagram these days is to #tbt photos from earlier in college (that's #ThrowbackThursday, for all the grandparents out there), back when we were "babies" who had just removed our training wheels and were learning how to maneuver this oversized bicycle of an undergraduate education. I certainly had no idea how to steer back then, much less hit the brakes.
But while many of those experiences do seem strange in retrospect and I do feel like I've grown considerably since that first year (freshman year Anneli was a tad more naïve than senior Anneli), the majority of these #tbts are fairly self-centered. They fail to take into account the successes of previous generations that have allowed us to stand where we are and applaud our own accomplishments. Indeed, the very fact that I am writing this as a woman at Harvard would not have been possible but for the persistent efforts of many determined students. The all-male Harvard College did not officially merge with its sister school, Radcliffe College, until 1999. I was six years old.
The fall of the Berlin Wall happened 25 years ago this past Sunday. Built to stop people from fleeing the communist East, the wall was still standing when my mother did her quintessential Europe trip in college. She remembers the stark contrast in modernity between West and East Berlin, shuffling with her tour group between worlds divided, which now seems like a spooky dream for those of us born after its demolition. I had several friends living in Berlin this summer, and their stories reflected the "hip, young, anti-classist" vibe of the city, rather than oppressive place it once was. Even Chancellor Merkel, who grew up on the Eastern side, noted that this reality is easy to forget.
Change happens quickly nowadays, and in no way am I arguing against this pace. On the contrary, change can't happen soon enough in some areas (read: energy policy). But because we live in the information era, our newsfeeds dominated by updates of both our social circles and war zones overseas, we become disillusioned to the big things. They become yet another matter for our overloaded minds to keep track of, rather than cause for celebration or dismay, and it takes very little time for us to move onto the next items on the to-do list.
Today is Veterans Day, and every year the poppies blossoming from lapels mark a time to reflect upon the personal sacrifices that it took for us to have many of the freedoms we enjoy, as imperfect as our democracy may be. We forget the importance of strides like the ability to practice religious beliefs and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." We forget the trauma undergone by living American veterans, in hopes of furthering American foreign policy (whatever one may say about war) but also leading to a fair amount of PTSD. We forget about the draft during the Vietnam War and how lucky our male peers are not to have come of age 40 years ago. In short, we forget about history.
How about a #tbt to when Harvard secretly expelled gay students because of their sexual orientation? Or when people of aboriginal descent in Australia were prohibited from voting until the 50s? Or when citizens of color were violently discriminated against by police and institutions solely because of their skin color? (Oh wait, that still happens... Awkward.)
I absolutely feel it is important to reflect upon our own experiences and personal growth; surviving the stress of college merits a good pat on the back once in a while, especially when the job market doesn't appear to offer much encouragement at the end of the tunnel. Yet let us not give ourselves too much credit for the luxury of being able to pursue essentially whichever "next step" we might be interested in, whether it leads to a "career" or not. Let us not take our educations for granted, especially in times of peace.
This Veterans Day, I will be thinking of my mother's parents, those same readers who likely still don't understand what #tbt means yet have a better memory of our nation's history than anyone I know. These unassuming, silver-haired cheerleaders lived in Georgia during the peak of the civil rights movement, came from immigrant backgrounds, and have supported my aspirations without fail, logical or not. I owe a lot of my ability to access a quality education to the priority they placed on family generations ago. That's a tricky thing to articulate on Instagram.