One of my mentors early in my career, Mims Harris at Colorado State University, shared the wisdom to never wish time away. It’s true. Life is too short, so I don’t generally wish for it to be the weekend or the next holiday break. Each day is worth living to its fullest, pushing through the adversity, and absorbing the good memories. Even so, I can’t say I will miss 2020, and while I am not wishing time away, I am looking forward to the future. Next year will bring its own set of joys and challenges, but I am optimistic things will be better than in the past year.
I say this with a quote from President Barack Obama in mind:
“Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it. Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”
There is no doubt that hardships are ahead of us in college unions, in higher education, and in the world. We know that the COVID-19 and racial injustice pandemics that plague our world will not be solved overnight. Additionally, on our campuses, we will be faced with the associated strains of deficit budgets and student activism in a highly polarized society. None of it will solve itself, yet as Obama alludes, we can be overcome such challenges by courageously acting to make the world a better place. We certainly will be tested as leaders, but I believe success is on the horizon, and I know of no more capable group than college union professionals.
I’ve never met a colleague from our field who was afraid to roll up their sleeves to get the job done. In fact, most of the people I know love getting their hands dirty, whether it is repairing bowling lanes or leading the union’s strategic planning process. We joined this field because of our love of students, knowing that our role in the college union contributes to their success in college and beyond. That is why we must remain hopeful and persistent to advance campus community and nurture student success.
I am hopeful for the future that we will create in our college unions, overcoming the baggage of 2020. In fact, some of the foundational work has already been put into place to, as Obama suggests, create our own destiny. This past year we proved that what we do best, creating engagement opportunities, can be accomplished virtually or face-to-face. We are aware of the important role our unions can play to heal the wounds of the larger society, the opportunity that exists for us as educators to teach students how to contribute to a socially just world. We know that it is through active dialogue that we can help students to express themselves while also listen to different or opposing views.
Another favorite quote that is a reminder of not wishing time away comes from Gretchen Rubin, who said: “The days are long, and the years are short.” We’ve had some long days in 2020, yet before we’ll soon have the memory of how we persisted. Not every problem will be solved, but we will be proud of how far we have come. As we look toward 2021 and the future, there is no doubt that our best days are ahead of us. Campuses will be mask-free, students will be pushing us to always do better, and our busy, thriving unions will be the central force to advance campus community. I know “we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it.”