During the final days of last semester, I, like many others, was trapped here on campus by the Snowpocalypse. Tests were finished, papers were handed in and not much else was going on beside snowball fights and viewings of “Love Actually” accompanied by hot chocolate. In order to help pass the time, I picked up extra shifts at Vital Vittles. As few students were left on campus, however, the hours passed slowly there as well.
That is, until I discovered the magazine rack, chock full of old issues of Newsweek, Vanity Fair and Hip-Hop Weekly Magazine. One article in Time has stayed with me. It labeled the past 10 years as the “Decade from Hell.” If you haven’t read the article, you should – even though it was published almost two months ago. It does a fine job recounting and explaining what went wrong during the so-called Lost Decade.
The article stuck with me because I realized that we grew up while al-Qaida was attacking us, we were invading Afghanistan and Iraq, Mother Nature was losing her temper everywhere and economies were crumbling worldwide. Our generation came of age in the “Decade of Broken Dreams” and lived through some of the worst of times. What does that mean for us and our dreams?
As I related in my very first column, I will always remember where I was on Sept. 11, 2001. But many of my memories are just as wrapped up in the other cataclysmic events of these past 10 years: the fear of birthday letters being filled with anthrax, the bomb drills and simulated lockdowns in school after the D.C. sniper attacks, a seventh-grade dance where rumors spread that the army had captured Osama bin Laden – and we the kids actually cried tears of joy. We had grown up hating the man, praying for his death, but we didn’t even know why.
Images of Americans drowning in the floodwaters of New Orleans – the city where I had celebrated my brother’s graduation only three months before – haunted my young mind. Our stately politicians instructed us in dishonesty and corruption while our beloved athletes taught us the arts of cheating and greed. The stories out of Gitmo and Abu Ghraib confused and shamed us, forcing us to question our American ideals, our American identities. As the market melted down and our promised share in the American dream seemingly vanished, we realized we’d been tricked and taken for a ride by our neighbors who worked on Wall Street and Main Street.
This is the environment in which we grew up. These were the people to whom we looked up. Those are the memories I have – but they are not the only ones.
For every moment I saw scenes of gunfire in Iraq on the news, I also spent half an hour marveling at the adventures of Cory and Topanga on “Boy Meets World” or laughing with Kenan and Kel. The economy may have taken a dip in 2001, but I was still pining for a PlayStation 2, racing my heart out on “Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.” My family and I still vacationed in New Orleans the summer of 2006 – just at Camp Hope with Habitat for Humanity, instead of the Radisson in the French Quarter. Two years later, recession or not, I still went to prom.
Of course there was a lot of crying, sighing, hugging and yelling. Of course things were not the same after 9/11 or the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean or the Virginia Tech shootings. Of course life disconcerted and disoriented us, pulling us in many different directions.
But isn’t that what life does? It messes with you, throws you off course so that you can learn something – about the world, yourself, another. While the devastation of the decade may have drubbed humanity, I would not go so far as to call it the decade from hell. Us children of the last 10 years have emerged better because of them. Because we are the witnesses of a sordid history, one that has taught us about the complex challenges we have inherited, we are better prepared to face them head on. The global state of distress and desolation has inspired within us a call to serve, to be passionate stewards and zealous combatants.
The beginnings of this work are evident here on our campus, in which ideas like social justice, environmentalism and interreligious dialogue thrive. Yes, more work needs to be done, and there is a lot of room for progress. We are just at the beginning. The point is that the complacent millennial generation The New York Times columnist David Brooks once described as apathetic and self-absorbed no longer exists. We are changed. In its place, our new generation of global leaders is emerging – one shaped by this “Decade of Broken Dreams” – but one dreaming and ready to fight for a better world.
Conor Finnegan is a sophomore in the College. He can be reached at finneganthehoya.com. ON THE ROAD appears every other Friday.”