Opinion will always have a place in history books

Wisconsin’s guiding principle, “Forward,” can only be upheld by those who fight for what they believe in.

Image By: Sebastian van Bastelaer

The two-dozen pieces I’ve written for this opinion page in the past 19 months have been some of my proudest accomplishments since I came to UW-Madison. I’ve been able to use this platform to share my voice, whether it was about politics, sports, school policies or memes (that was a weird one). I’ve spent more time banging my head on my keyboard, trying to bludgeon words out of my head and onto my Word document, than I can count. I have also typed out more dashes—fear not, they’re liberally used throughout this farewell piece—than I can count. Some articles have been eloquent and well-thought out; others weren’t exactly worth reading aloud at the dinner table.

With my time at the Cardinal (in this capacity at least) coming to an end, I’ve been reading back over what I’ve written. I’ve been surprised by a lot—I’ve found I don’t even remember, or even agree with, some of my own opinions. It made me realize that, throughout this entire process, I’d only been focused on how I’d felt at the time. I had rarely bothered to wonder why any of it mattered at all.

Myriad momentous events have occured over the course of the past several years. Few, however, have been able to hold our attention, as the rest quickly fade into memory as the next news cycle rolls along. So many seemingly earth-shattering pieces of news have arrived, caused widespread consternation and have been quickly forgotten about. The events themselves come and go, as they always have and always will. What tends to stay, however, is the way that the news has made us feel.

The two years I’ve worked for The Daily Cardinal, the first spent as a writer full of upright zeal and the second spent proudly presiding over the opinion section, have been some of the most momentous and significant years of my lifetime. I’ve seen the transition of power from one president, beheld as unfit by many, to one deemed dangerous by another sizable portion. I’ve seen firsthand the impact that budget cuts can have on a proud flagship university. I’ve learned that college referees have it out for the Badgers in all sports, and nothing anyone can say will convince me otherwise. The tumult, drama and division shown both in the U.S. and around the world has been both awe-inspiring and harrowing. It’s been an honor to have been able to witness these events unfold and to be able to speak my mind.

Sharing your voice, even if you aren’t the editor of an opinion section, has never been more important. This, of course, is easy for me to say—as somebody who has spent more hours reading and writing opinion pieces than he can even begin to count, of course opinions matter. But they matter most importantly because our opinions, and the way that we manifest them, will be remembered long after we’re gone.

As a student of history—rather than a student of journalism, as many of my brilliant Cardinal cohorts are—my responses to the world around us have always been slightly different. When something newsworthy happens, one of the first questions I ask myself is, “How will this event be remembered decades down the road?” The things we do today will someday end up in a textbook, and even those who feel insignificant will have an impact on that particular chapter’s events. It’s always been one of my most firmly held beliefs that, in due time, posterity will vindicate those who stood up for what they fought for—whatever that may be.

Even to those who feel anonymous—in their student body, in their local community or even on this planet—the way you acted during this time period will, one day, be reflected upon by those you impacted. If I’ve learned one thing in my time as a student of history, it’s that every single thing you say or do can and will have an impact on the history of yourself, and your country.

Everything from what you say and do to the way you treat those whom you love and who love you will one day help to form an image of who we were as a people in this particular moment in time. Even when it feels like nobody’s watching, history does have its eyes on you (did anyone who knows me really think I wouldn’t make a Hamilton reference before the end of my tenure?). So if you believe that the Earth is flat, that the climate isn’t changing, that UW-Madison shouldn’t bring back baseball or even that our 44th or 45th president is the worst we’ve ever had (either opinion pays a gross disrespect to William Henry Harrison, who literally died a month into office after neglecting to keep himself warm at his own inauguration), far be it from me or anyone to deny you your right to express that opinion. But the worst thing you can do is to not express it at all.

When future generations ask who we were, they won’t just look at the major news events—the front pages of the newspaper. Sure, they’ll peruse page 1 to see what news dominated our time. But eventually, they’ll come to the inevitable question: How did contemporaries feel about this? And maybe then, they’ll decide to flip to page 5—or page 6 or 7 or 11 or whatever page the management team decided to assign the opinion section that given day. Only then will they begin to really understand who we were—and, most importantly, what we stood for.

Sebastian is a sophomore majoring in history and environmental studies. He’d like to thank all his colleagues, family and friends for their support over the last two years. Through what lens do you view current events? Please send all comments, questions and concerns to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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