There was always a question that tickled the back of my mind more potently than a feather to a foot: do those who live through major world and society-shifting historical moments truly understand the gravity of it all, in the moment?
My official diploma from Drexel states that I graduated on Mar. 13, 2020. Within a week, the entire country went into lockdown. From my couch in San Francisco, I witnessed the ups and downs — mostly downs — in America as COVID-19 became part of the national lexicon.
Misinformation ran rampant; something that had happened before, without a doubt. Still, almost for the first time, it felt as if the stakes were higher.
Lives were being lost in the thousands due to the pandemic and resulting complications. The saddest part was that most of them were preventable if only people had decided listening to the experts wasn’t bad.
Every plan we had and everything we wanted to do was canceled instantly. Like myself, people coming out of college couldn’t find a job as the unemployment rate skyrocketed.
Next came the shock of May 25: Derek Chauvin’s knee pressing unforgivingly into George Floyd’s neck outside a Cup Foods store in Minneapolis. The cry of millions of Americans stated that police brutality, systemic racism against African Americans, and living under constant oppression and fear would not cut it. Fundamental change needed to happen, and it needed to happen now.
And then, of course, came the politics. After all, the world stopped in the middle of an election cycle.
Suddenly, topics we had not discussed before in the political sphere became commonplace; Joe Biden pigeon-holed himself by announcing he would pick a black female running mate should he become the Democratic nominee.
The debates between Biden and then-President Donald Trump were a mess, as it was clear that they weren’t about debating the issues but rather bringing your opponent down with the most memorable quips.
And then came the events of Jan. 6. I can remember there was a time when everyone around me was saying: “At least Trump wouldn’t try to overthrow the country.” Through a steady stream of lies and misinformation, backed by the doo-wop group of his supporters, members of his administration, and the media who constantly repeated the lies, it was only a matter of time before something horrifying happened.
Throughout it all, the constant swell of misinformation, regardless of the issue, became overwhelming and utterly exhausting. Trying to keep up with it all, as it seemed it was everywhere, no matter where you looked, became a task of its own.
During that time, knowing that finding a job in media would be near-impossible for me with a bachelor’s from a school not known for its journalism program, not to mention the inherent biases against disabled journalists, I decided that this unofficial gap year would be one where I would dedicate myself, every day, to constantly learning and growing.
I learned about contract law, justice, neuroscience, the Constitution, expanding on my writing skills, leadership, you name it.
I played tennis almost every day, constantly working out and developing every skill I had. This was not for something to put on a résumé. I just wanted to know I was doing something that afforded me the luxury of peace of mind instead of just sitting back and waiting for everything to resolve itself.
And eventually, it made me realize that the plan I had in mind needed to be modified. Instead of waiting a few years for professional experience that was clearly not going to come, why not go for my master’s now?
Putting my eggs in one basket and wiping everything else off to the side, I risked it all. I applied for studying my master’s at, arguably, the best journalism school in the country: UC Berkeley.
Nearly two years later, I sit at the legendary North Gate Hall, learning from some of the best this industry has to offer, including Jeremy Rue, Shereen Marisol Meraji, Koci Hernandez, David Barstow…true titans of the profession.
Using the knowledge imparted to me from the giants in our industry, I’m putting the finishing touches on my thesis project, arguably the most ambitious task I have ever undertaken in my career, and that includes attempting to set up a podcasting division at The Triangle.
“This American Divide” is, for me, the culmination of the last three years. I have read through many government reports and huge amounts of raw data, investigated some of the most influential people in the world, such as Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, read through historical context, and sat in deep reflection on overall psychology and basic human behavior to answer what, on the surface, seems like a simple question: “How does social media impact political polarization in the United States?”
The answer will shock you, and I know that because it shocked me: because this seemingly simple question, much like many others like it, has no simple answer. To answer it at all, we must look into our past, to see how history and historical figures have molded our parties to where they are now.
We must look into our future and what may need to change.
Who knows? The government may have to institute stronger regulations and greater transparency of some of the most influential organizations in the world. We may even have to change ourselves, our thinking, and our education system to become less susceptible to misinformation.
But, most importantly, we need to look at where we are. Right now. Because history is constantly shifting. We’re the ones making that shift. To quote Willy Wonka: “We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
To change the world, we first need to do something in the present to influence the future: change ourselves. Invite compromise into our lives, including with people who think differently than we do.
Understand that we’re going to disagree on things, but it doesn’t matter in the end so long as we agree that we all want to live in peace. I did this during my piece, and you’ll see a lot of it as it forms the backbone of how I got the story.
So, in the beginning, I asked, “Do those who live through major, world and society-shifting historical moments truly understand the gravity of it all in the moment?” If I’ve learned anything from “Divide,” and what I hope you’ll learn as well, is that we do realize the gravity, but that’s still not enough. You need to take the leap and do something about it.
Drexel University: the school I graduated from, the halls and floors I have walked nearly every inch of, where I know political activism is always bubbling behind a level of resentment and jokes, claiming that there are no opportunities past these walls. I’ve been in your shoes. I get it.
But I made it. I realized the gravity and I decided I would do something about it. So, with that being said, I’ll leave you with a question of my own.
What are you going to do about it?