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As the 2016-17 school year comes to a close, I would like to take a moment to reflect on what I believe has been a critical moment in my life and the lives of fellow students at Corvallis High School. This school year has coincided with a presidential election year, and although most of the student body at CHS wasn’t eligible to vote during the election, it is one that has left us with the knowledge that we have a voice in this nation, and further, that we can make a choice in how to handle an unexpected outcome – choosing between despair in something that’s already taken place or choosing to hope for a better future.
Hope and despair – antonyms, and thus, polar opposite feelings in our lives.
I believe I speak for most of our student body when I say that despair was felt in the hallways and in the hearts of students following the November 8th election results. Despair not in the fact that President Trump won the election, per se, but despair in seeing the ugliest parts of our society creeping back into the daily norm and feeling anxiety from watching hate unfold, despair from being uncertain of what the future of our generation’s country holds.
During and following the presidential election, we have faced anxiety – especially those of us who are, or have worried about, our community’s population of minorities and immigrants. Those who cannot conveniently check the safe “white” box when asked about ethnicity have found themselves, at the very minimum, in danger from unreasonable xenophobia, but in some cases, removed or otherwise prevented from entering our country. We’ve faced anxiety over sometimes close-minded religious beliefs and views on sexual orientation.
During and following the presidential election, we have seen hate – verbal harassment, racial slurs, derogatory language, and what some might say is a general dissolution of polite society. Although news outlets have showed us more hate than we’ve seen in our own community of Corvallis, the fact remains that hate and hate crimes increased immediately preceding and directly following the presidential election. In addition, fuel that often kindles hate crimes, such as misogyny and white supremacy, has crept back into our daily lives. Misogyny is no longer just an SAT buzzword. It’s become real to our generation, when the oppressed women of prior generations fought to pave a pathway of equality for future generations. Further, white supremacy was a phrase that should have remained a part of history class, yet it, too, is a phrase that’s found its way back into our daily news sources and political discussions.
Following the presidential election, we have been left wonder about our future and that of our country – will the United States go to war, and will we see a wartime nuclear bomb set off during our lifetimes as seen by our grandparents’ generation? How will the United States respond to the ever-menacing threat of North Korea, and what will develop with our administration’s connections to Russia? Further, what do other nations think of our country and our top leader? How will the change in our government administration change our relationship with allies in the future?
Despite all the reasons for despair, our school, and even more so, our community of Corvallis, has developed a sense of hope. We’ve learned to speak out and care more deeply about those who are different from us. We’ve walked out, we’ve marched, we’ve rallied, and we’ve become familiar with the term “sanctuary campus”. As high school students, we’ve become more engaged in politics and have paid closer attention to what’s happening at the White House and in world politics. We’ve seen executive orders signed, listened as immigration policies have been put into place, and watched as climate change policies have been scoffed. We’ve seen presidential administration officials hired, subsequently fired, and new officials appointed. We’ve watched curiously and kept our minds open throughout all of this. We’ve wondered if our leader will stand beside everything that represents America, a country in itself created through immigration that started during the 17th and 18th centuries. Most of all – we’ve continued to hope.
What I’ve learned this election year, and what I believe all of us at CHS have learned, is that it will be more important than ever to use our voice, and for this generation to be involved in government and politics, because we will be the ones to deal with the outcome of this presidential term. Nevertheless, we cannot despair. We must use hope to change our country with dignity and compassion. We cannot run from, or otherwise avoid, uncomfortable conversations. We must use our voices and be role models for the change we want to see for our nation. We must be the generation to ensure our children and grandchildren don’t face misogyny, racism, or homophobia. We must be the generation to ensure that climate change, once again, is something of critical importance and a recognized threat. This past election year has shown us that we must use our voice to reason, and to fight for what we believe. We have hope, and we will use this hope to protect the future of our great nation.