As this will be the last issue of Blueprint published before I graduate next month, this is the last column I will write in high school. This is a rather bittersweet moment for me, and with these words I can feel the closing of a short, but very significant chapter in my life.
This process–call it retirement or graduation–is always an interesting one. Earlier today, before I sat down to write this piece, I went in to observe and help with Blueprint’s “work weekend,” the production process for the paper that occurs the weekend before each issue is released. After participating in this event 16 times, 8 as Opinion Editor and 8 as Managing Editor, it was surreal to see it fully in the hands of others. As I have experienced with similar situations, like graduating from my Boy Scout troop, it was thoroughly weird to see an organization to which I had devoted so much time of my young life taken over by my younger successors, many of whom I had helped to evaluate or recruit.
Given the personal importance that this piece carries to me, I have struggled to choose an
appropriate topic. There are several issues that I would have liked to tackle were I to have more columns remaining, and several very clever metaphors and ideas that will go tragically unused, as all seemed unfitting. There would be no better swan song for my time as a high school opinion writer, I have decided, than an evaluation of this experience, and of the many lessons it has bestowed on me.
I have now spent three years writing opinion pieces for Blueprint, starting with a brief column on the 2012 presidential election in the beginning of my sophomore year. To look back and think how much both I and my views have changed since then is somewhat incredible. Writing opinion and editorial pieces has helped me to engage with the world, to learn to better express myself, and to develop my own ideological identity. Beyond that, it has taught me the importance of these things. Conversely, it has showed me just how undervalued they are among high schoolers, and I believe, society at large.
It is universally recognized among Blueprint staff that a good deal of what we produce, especially the written work, will be largely ignored by the student body, that by far the biggest factor in the reception of an issue is the graphic appeal of the cover, and that each mistake we make will receive as much attention as a hundred more things done right. For anyone who puts many of hours of hard work into something, to have it treated this way is discouraging and tiresome.
Far more important than my own narcissistic desire for my work to be recognized, however, is the troubling apathy demonstrated by students at Acalanes and increasingly, youth around the country. It is safe to say that the majority of Acalanes students are not particularly engaged with the world, and generally fail to follow news or current events when such a task is not forced upon them.
It is not for lack of access–social media and the Internet have made accessing news easier than ever. Rather than fueling interest in the affairs of the world, however, increased access seems to have drained it. Most would prefer to use the immense power at the fingertips for the consumption of inane mass media, impotent clicktivism, and the narcissistic self-promotion that has become inherent in social media. While some are using newfound technological resources to accomplish great things, as a whole, the self-congratulatorily named “Internet generation” is mostly wasting the massive potential of the great privilege we have been afforded.
Many may question why it is so important that they be engaged with the world. Apathy rarely comes from a place of malice–it’s simply easier not to care. As a young person, especially one living in a place like Lafayette, it is undeniably easier to sit back and focus on things that seem more immediate to one’s own life, and simply let the outside world happen.
A great deal can happen, however, when you’re not paying attention. The world is an increasingly interconnected place, and we all must learn to be a part of it. Many would be surprised how quickly the seemingly distant issues that they have preferred to ignore can become relevant to their own lives.
Youth disengagement is hardly a new phenomenon, but it is getting worse. Each election shows a lower youth voter turnout than the last, and polling shows more youth simply not caring about politics than ever before. Our education system would do well to address this, focusing more on current events and issues, and making an effort to show their relevance in students’ lives.
There is, however, a great deal of personal responsibility in this endeavour. While interest can be fostered, it ultimately must come from within. Engagement with the world is hugely rewarding. It provides perspective, empathy, and even a deeper sense of identity and self.
Opinion writing has done this for me. I can’t claim to enjoy every 11th-hour piece, every late night (how did it get to be 1:30 am, anyway?), or every minute of google-research. Caring about the world isn’t always easy. Confusion, anger and frustration are common side-effects. But it is well worth it.