In ten days I will accept my degree from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. A half month later, we’ll collectively close the door on one of the most turbulent periods of American history, a ten year span that Time magazine recently dubbed “the decade from Hell.
In the case of both, it’s about time.
Graduations, in theory, at least, are supposed to be happy occasions. Our families and friends will travel from all over to hear our names called as we walk across a stage and are handed a piece of paper that, in some way, is supposed to be a validation of the literal blood, sweat, and tears expended (not to mention the financial liability incurred) to receive it. Words of wisdom – and warning – will be conveyed by our elders. Grandmothers and parents will cry tears of joy. The auditorium will twinkle like a Christmas tree from the flashes of dozens of digital cameras. Celebrations will ensue. There will be booze.
But graduations are also supposed to represent lines of demarcation; a beginning and ending. Before grad school, we were perhaps less aware, more credulous. Reporting for a year and a half quickly disabuses you of any notion that you truly have a handle on this world, though. Post-graduation? Well, that’s a different story. It’s all supposed to make a little more sense. Or perhaps we’re just supposed to understand how little we actually know and accept it.
In any case, I feel like the ending of this year and decade might represent something of a graduation day for the county as well. Because just as the halcyon haze of my commencement will eventually fade and I’ll be faced with a series of gut-wrenching decisions about the nature of what it is that I want to do in an uncertain field, America will find itself grappling with a host of perplexing issues about the type of country it wants to be.
During his run for the White House and in the wake of his election, many pundits speculated that President Obama’s deliberative intellectual style and accommodating mien might indicate that the country was ready to turn away from the gut level decision making and openly partisan politics that characterized the two terms of George W. Bush. And, for a short time, it did feel that way.
But then the summer came and the health care debate revealed how little actually changed. Facebook posts from out of work politicians making baseless claims about the nature of the legislation dominated the national debate. Guns were brandished at town halls. Republicans accused Democrats of wanting to kill granny.
All of this played out against the backdrop of the worst recession most of us have ever seen not to mention the two wars we’re prosecuting in the Middle East. Throw in concerns over climate change and a host of other issues and its hard not to be crestfallen over what appears to be a lack of seriousness in the public debate.
So we are at a critical moment: will we, both as students and as citizens of the nation, take the lessons we’ve learned and apply them to our lives in a productive way, or will we choose to ignore them at our peril?
As to journalism, although I’m unsure of what the field will look like in the immediate future, I know that there are enterprising reporters doing the sometimes thankless but incredibly important work of providing the people of this city with snapshots of the triumphs and struggles of what’s going on around them. I see classmates digging to find important stories that need to be told. I see experimentation and innovation.
In short, it may be a rocky road, I think the future of journalism is in good hands.
And after reading stories like this, I see some reasons, albeit minor ones, to be optimistic about what the coming year might bring. Things won’t be easy, but being able to get a glimpse of our leaders working, really working, to make the best choices they can is reassuring.
So as my time as a student and this year and decade end, I look forward to 2010 with sober eyes but high hopes. I wish us all the luck in the world. We’re gonna need it.