(I’ve been sending periodic emails to current and some former students since the start of the pandemic. If you want off this list, lmk. If you want to stay on as a former student, lmk and send me your non-UW email. And, if you’re interested, you can see an archive of past emails to students on my website.)
Where to start? A lot has happened since the last time I wrote you all.
I was thinking of writing something in January as UW decided to go back to campus. If you’re a current student of mine (and you attended the class session where I talked about UW’s decision), you know the deliberation I went through and the poll I sent out, as I considered the options and decided to stay remote, only to have my dean disallow me that option. And, as you know, I then decided to remind you all that I don’t take attendance and that I’d just have my laptop open to the zoom room while sitting in the physical room at UW and whether you were in the physical space with me or not was entirely up to you. But… man, there’s so much to unpack there. Just know that I’m trying to live a consistent life where I make decisions based on my values and commitments. I believe that’s the only way to live without regrets. (No regerts!)
A week ago, the Winter Olympics ended, and, wow… what a controversial few weeks that was! From the getgo, US announcers and commentators acknowledged that this was going to be weird with the Chinese ongoing cultural genocide of the Uyghurs and with rising tension on the Ukraine border and Putin flying in to meet with Xi Jinping to solidify their bond (making me speculate about Taiwan). Then we had a bunch of athletes being disqualified for stupid reasons and, of course, the huge thing with Valieva doping and whether she should’ve been allowed to skate and then falling twice and the whole Russian team in disarray and us watching teen girls get traumatized for life on TV!
And, now… I mean shit. When the doping occurred and Russia was potentially going to be punished, I made the speculation that Putin would just invade Ukraine and basically say “who gives a shit about the Olympics?” And then the president of the IOC made that closing ceremony speech saying how sport and the games unify us and that we must remember that this unity is stronger than the forces that seek to divide us. I totally ate it up, but I sort of felt like he was trying really hard to believe his own words.
Yesterday and today, in case you haven’t been paying attention, Russian forces invaded Ukraine (and supposedly also are engaged in a large-scale cyberattack against the nation). Biden gave a press conference this morning. NPR’s coverage was sobering. No one really seemed to know what to think or what to predict for the coming weeks and months. One person who was interviewed actually speculated that Putin seemed unhinged and that’s not something you want in a person in charge of nuclear arms (though, I suppose we had four years of that recently…).
I gotta be honest with you. I was feeling anxiety and despair this morning as I was listening to all of that news. I kept thinking, “but we’re fucking in this together.” It physically hurts me, and I get sick to my stomach when people don’t realize this. That we’re better together is something I always try to impress upon you, even more so in recent quarters as new classes form. I fully believe this.
I remember in grad school, a student group I was in, Educators for Social Justice, brought in a bunch of guest speakers from local community groups, and one of them was asked why they do the work they do, and his reply was “There’s a lot of shit happening in the world. I’m trying to make sure none of it is from me.”
And, yeah… well, that’s the thing. It’s pithy (like Google’s “don’t be evil”), but, in more recent years, I’ve come to realize that, actually, we need to do more than that; don’t just not be shitty but actively try to clean up shit. You don’t want net-zero shit; you want net-negative shit. (And wouldn’t it be awesome if Google was actively trying to be good rather than just not evil?)
Anyway, I don’t know where I’m going with this. I just want to say that as I move further along in life, I’ve sort of realized that what matters is communicating and being consistent with your values. I’m trying to do these more and more.
I know a lot of you are graduating soon (or have already! or will eventually) and are worried about the future. My only advice is to live a life consistent with your values and to constantly be examining whether you’re doing that. I mean, sure, you want to make sure you’re able to survive, but, beyond that, so long as you don’t compromise who you are, you’ll be fine. Life isn’t fair, but you will know yourself, and that’s enough. (Unfortunately, for many of you, this won’t make sense for another 20 years or so… sorry.)
Ok. I guess I’m done. Be good to each other and to yourself. Lemme know if you need anything.
P.S. The series finale of The Expanse had this inspiring tidbit:
You don’t do it for a reward or a pat on the head.The universe never tells us if we did right or wrong.
It’s more important to try to help people than to know that you did.
More important that someone else’s life gets better than for you to feel good about yourself.
You never know the effect you might have on someone, not really.
Maybe one core thing you said haunts them forever.
Maybe one moment of kindness gives them comfort or courage.
Maybe you said the one thing they needed to hear.
It doesn’t matter if you ever know.
You just have to try.