As millions gathered in Washington, D.C., and in their living rooms last Tuesday to watch President Barack Obama sworn in as the nation’s 44th president, the promise of a new era was curtailed by the realities we face as a nation.
Proclaiming the challenges, economic, social and political, confronting the country to be serious and grave, Obama nonetheless asserted that they’ll be met.
‘On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics,’ said Obama.
In many ways, Obama’s inauguration speech was a call to action. It was also a moment for the country to engage in authentic and purposeful self-reflection. As our country faces unprecedented challenges at home and abroad, it’s time for our generation to ‘set aside the childish things,’ Obama spoke of.
The current economic collapse has been endemic of the problems which lay dormant in American society for quite some time. We bought the illusion of our own permanent grandeur at wholesale. The last decade saw a consumer-driven society whose preoccupation with material things distorted its concept of reality. America became a fitting metaphor for the Hummer. An ostentatious, oversized, militarized and gas guzzling entity that couldn’t sustain itself for long.
Generation-Y has come of age during this very precarious time. We are often called the wired generation, desensitized to living out our entire lives online, exposed for the entire world to see.
In an attempt to become hyper-connected, we have instead grown more isolated from one another. For too long we have accepted a pre-packaged ideal of happiness and patriotism.
By equating fulfillment with an unending pursuit of material things, we have driven ourselves into debt. By rejecting or ignoring alternative definitions of patriotism and service to our country, we have failed to actively pursue work that enhances our society.
President John F. Kennedy once made a similar appeal of the American people to become engaged in their government. They responded with the Peace Corps, the civil rights movement, marches on Washington and a level of political engagement that has begun to be resurrected once again.
At CSUN we experience a microcosm of the problems the country faces. Budget cuts are impacting the availability and quality of our education. At the same time, the university is hemorrhaging money on projects which have caused an outcry among the student body, viewed as unnecessary. Will our response remain one of complacency or will we heed President Obama’s call to action?
The beauty of America, as President Obama said, is that it can change. And it must once again, with ingenuity, innovation and a fierce commitment to its democratic ideals. Now is a critical time for America. President Obama is confident these challenges will be met. How we choose to respond to his expectations and how high we set our own is entirely up to us.