Grasping our generation’s role

Late Sunday night, the College, the country and the international community received news after nearly a decade of anticipation: Osama bin Laden had finally been killed by American forces in Pakistan. At the Record, we rarely report or comment on events outside the College’s traditional scope; students may access information about foreign and domestic affairs from national media outlets delivered to campus and available online. We intentionally focus on news with direct relation to the College, for that information is unavailable elsewhere and is best reported here. However, the news of bin Laden’s death is more than just a brief in our lives or a side note on a radio broadcast: It is a call for us as individuals and as a College community to reflect and remember the past decade, which was undoubtedly shaped by his actions.

Sept. 11, 2001 is a day that all members of the College community – whether first-years, faculty, administration or staff – will remember forever. As Ephs hailing from Alaska to Afghanistan, we all watched as the news unfolded in front of our eyes on television screens. Bin Laden’s actions, both before and after the World Trade Center crumbled in New York, resonate both locally and globally. Three of the nearly 3000 who died at Ground Zero were College alumni. Many current students woke up one morning to sunshine and returned home amidst dust and rubble in downtown New York. Even more have felt the effects of the United States’ and the world’s responses to the events of that day. Whatever divisions may exist within our community or within our homes, it is clear that for the time being that our identities as Williams students and denigrators of terror is paramount. While we did not choose it as such, bin Laden and the threat of terrorism that he generated are the arc of a story that has shaped – and will likely continue to shape – our generation.

With such busy schedules that reach from Cole Field to the ’62 Center, from Spencer Art Studio to Paresky, we tend to think about the future far more than the present or our own pasts. Sunday night, we were presented with a chance for renewed reflection, a chance to ponder our personal responses to the death of a terrorist who has altered our lives. In common rooms and classrooms, we discussed the sustained implications of bin Laden’s attack and considered the circumstances we now face as individuals, as leaders and as members of the international community. Syllabi were tossed aside and, in rare form, we dealt with events in ways that could not have been planned months prior.

For students, bin Laden’s death comes at a particularly critical time. Surrounded by a wealth of knowledge and intellectualism at the College, we can now take the time to understand, reflect upon and respond to the events and results of 9/11 in ways we may have been unable to 10 years ago. Two wars, thousands of lives and billions of dollars later, we will inherit the post-9/11 world once we leave the purple bubble. Bin Laden’s death certainly bears symbolic consequences and potentially practical ones too, but the problems we face as individuals in an intertwined, interconnected world will not disappear with his death. While we do not know what specific impact bin Laden’s death will have on the future of our individual lives or American foreign policy, we know that our voices – as a generation and, more specifically, as those expected to lead this generation – will be pertinent in the upcoming decisions.

Certainly on 9/11, when most of those now enrolled at the College were children, we may have been confused or overwhelmed by the new issues born into the world. Now, as college students – individuals of legal age, eligible to be drafted and to vote – we have no such excuse for apathy or ignorance. Particularly in our academic environment, with professors prodding our exploration of the important issues that our generation will confront, students at the College must take advantage of these resources. The diversity of this community and the experiences of its members are immaterial advantages that cannot be quantified like books or accolades: We have each other. Ask a friend about his or her own experience on 9/11. Whether your professor teaches political science or physics, stop by after class to talk about the implications of the world around us. Remember that the past influences our present and our future. Be understanding of those with different viewpoints or responses to this important era in our lives. Most importantly, realize that you are not alone in advocating for more productive dialogue. If this sort of conversation can happen anywhere, it is at Williams.