“How does one eat an elephant?”
In no time at all, every person on the planet has been thrust into crises unlike any before. We are in the midst of cultural, societal, political, and technological change that has accelerated beyond our abilities to make sense of it all. We are only now beginning to fully realize the extent of the many problems facing humanity and our planet. If there is one silver lining, it is that we have been afforded an opportunity to reflect on how we ended up here and to determine a viable path forward. The theme of this conference implores you to ask questions – what are the questions we should be asking if we ever intend to find the most critical and imperative solutions?
We are on the precipice of difficulties from which there may be no turning back: a global pandemic has brought world governments to their knees; an ever-widening wealth disparity has led to growing civil unrest; political and cultural divisiveness has generated a schism between the citizens of our country; centuries of systemic racial discrimination and inexcusable violence have reached a tipping point; climate change is poised to result in untold catastrophic events that will re-shape our physical and manmade borders and result in our ever-growing global population clamoring for higher ground and basic human necessities. It may seem impossible to confront all of these challenges at once, but we must try.
For more than forty years, the purpose of the Northeast Regional Honors Council conference has been to celebrate the pursuit of honors-level scholarship, learning, and research by undergraduate students as they make their way through higher education. Your generation can no longer view education as a gradual pursuit. Like so many medical school students around the world who have been prematurely enlisted in the fight against Covid-19, it is incumbent upon you to pursue and defend the ideals of education now, to mobilize against the growing tribulations that face the planet now, and to work harder, smarter, and for less in return now than any generation that has preceded you.
Your generation has been handed a corroding world, a set of circumstances that seem impossible to navigate, a series of problems that we are told is too late to fix. It is not too late. Your generation has been so frequently discounted, lied to, marginalized, and patronized. When told not to ask questions, you must do just that.
As we once again prepare to meet in Albany, New York to celebrate higher learning and to share research with one another, an urgency bubbles beneath our feet. If there is one thing that we all must agree upon, it is that the solution to the many problems we are facing lies in education and critical thinking. Research must be continued, science must once again be supported and held in high esteem, data must be relied upon whether or not we find the results unpleasant or inconvenient.
Let this conference theme serve as a call to action – what are the problems you can help solve? What are the questions you should be asking in order to solve them? How can we collectively and correctly identify the most pressing matters that face us as a species and unify before it is too late? How can we truly learn from history and chart a new course that can lead to positive, tangible solutions?
It is a lot to ask of your generation. As tempting as it may be to give in to cynicism, we must persist in fighting for the future by continually questioning the status quo. We must remain optimistic in the face of the daunting task ahead. We must ask the yet unasked questions if we can ever hope to find the solutions we seek.
“How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”- Unknown