The Pitt News

Dream both big and small in 2018

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(Photo by Thomas Yang | Visual Editor)

(Photo by Thomas Yang | Visual Editor)

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(Photo by Thomas Yang | Visual Editor)

By Henry Glitz | Opinions Editor

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When I joined this newspaper’s editorial staff around this time last year, I spent my first night on the job writing a column about how I thought our readers should approach the new year.

The rapidly approaching prospects of a new president and a new job, along with my natural impulse to set grandiose start-of-the-year goals, led me to recommend a head-on collision with the problems in our lives. The massive challenges of a year marked by the return of nuclear anxieties and the individual stress that comes with balancing school, personal relationships and a job, seemed to demand a massive response.

Idealism at the beginning of a new year is justifiable. And it’s true in 2018 that North Korea will still have a bomb, President Donald Trump will be outrageously incompetent and we will all face the increasing stresses of everyday life as emerging adults. But we can’t afford to let the immensity of life as it faces us in the upcoming 12 months distract us from the quotidian moments that make collegiate life a singular experience that’s worth living.

Despite growing financial inaccessibility, college students still inhabit a fleetingly privileged existence. It can be hard to notice it on late night walks home from the library in the cold, with obligations looming early in the morning, mere hours away. But on those days without classes or work when you can sleep til noon (please tell me you’ve done this too), the bizarre beauty of college life is hard to deny.

When you walk into an academic building, there’s a temptation to envision yourself temporarily entering a prison. That’s even more so the case when you can only think about the big picture — what a class will do for your career, how it might look on a resumé.

Over the course of the past year, I’ve undoubtedly had experiences that would appeal to future employers. That’s not why they matter, though. Through all the various conduits I’ve experienced university life this past year — whether as editor, student, friend, host or random passerby — I’ve seen and felt the complexity, ugliness and beauty of an entire new year’s worth of life. To have a front seat on humanity against the dramatic contrasts between Oakland’s green spaces, stone structures and grimy streets only adds to the drama of the everyday.

My own personal experiences in college as a white man obviously don’t necessarily touch on some of the very real problems that affect my classmates. I’ve never feared for my own deportation, worried about finding a roof to put over my head or been drugged at a party. Taking time to recognize the untapped complexity of our everyday surroundings shouldn’t make us blind to the fact that a larger context still exists.

But it’s difficult — if not entirely impossible — to face off against the bigger demons in our lives without keeping in mind what exactly they’re made of. Without the knowledge of how to deal with the evils in everyday life, it’s also unlikely that we’ll be able to solve the problems that make it into the news.

Another fleeting advantage of college life comes in its position near the groundspring of social change in the United States. At any given time, at least five or six conservative commentators are busy writing mindless think pieces about collegiate “safe spaces,” but that doesn’t change the fact that we are specially positioned to scrutinize the seemingly insignificant in our society and to push against it every day.

According to a study from the University of California, Los Angeles, published in 2016, some 8.5 percent of college first years in 2015 said that they were “very likely” to take part in a protest while on campus — a number higher than ever before recorded since the annual survey began in 1967. It’s a sign that more of us than ever are discontented with our everyday lives, and willing to do something about it.

Our everyday experiences today mirror what our everyday experiences will be like in the near future. It’s important to focus on the here and now — instead of just the dragons waiting to be slain on the horizon — not only because it’s more manageable, but because it’s what the future is built on.

Of course, the small things in our daily lives are also valuable simply for themselves. Taking a walk around campus — once it gets warm again, that is — seeing people, hearing sounds and spotting spaces around us in the Pittsburgh that we’re all accustomed to can be a reassuring, almost anchoring feeling if you go about thinking of it in the right way. Surely it can’t hurt to stop on your way to class and take a look at the decorations on the tops of buildings, the plants growing up out of the ground or the clouds whisking past overhead.

As I start my 2018, I feel both nervous and cautiously excited about how both my own world and all of our existences are on the brink of dramatic change. Whether that change is for better or worse will be determined by what we do this year — but in the meantime, I want to take one more look around.

Henry is the Opinions Editor of The Pitt News. Write to him at hgg7@pitt.edu.

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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper
Dream both big and small in 2018