Where Do We Go From Here?

By Katie Schott

“Tell mom you love her,” my youngest brother, William, told me last Friday evening. I had answered the call in the midst of an economics assignment, and assumed he wanted me to respond to a text my mom had sent in our family group message – “Love you!” – about thirty minutes earlier.

I was only half listening before Will began to explain that there was a terrorist attack in Paris, where my mother, my father and he live. I quickly shut my computer and got up from my chair in the noisy cafe where I was doing my homework.

He began to explain that my father was home, he – my brother – was in the suburbs at a sleepover with friends, but our mother was in the Marais, where an attack had been staged in the Bataclan Theatre. I ended the call quickly and called my mother.

She answered; she reassured me she was fine amidst loud background noise; she said that while she was having dinner with friends the grates had been closed on the front window of the restaurant, and explained that 500 meters from their table gunshots had been fired about a half hour before. They had been notified of a terrorist attack in which several shooters entered the Bataclan Theatre down the street and began firing.

I pleaded with her to go home, but she explained that she was in police hold-up until the scene was clear, and then my father could go drive and pick her up. My whole family arrived home rattled, but safe.

The next few hours and the next day was filled with phone calls from relatives, texts from friends, co-workers and professors asking if my family was all right. Luckily, I was never in extreme fear that my mom would be hurt; by the time I knew what was happening my mom was already with the police and I was almost certain she would be safe. The reason I am sharing this story is because of what became clear to me in the days after.

I will state the obvious: we live in a scary world. In the lifetime of students currently at Middlebury College, the United States saw planes crash into the Twin Towers and the Boston Marathon finish line bombed. Paris’ Charlie Hebdo newspaper was attacked in January and on Friday ISIS launched several attacks around the city and attempted to bomb the France-Germany soccer game. The day before, Beirut experienced a twin suicide bombing. These are just a few of too many other acts of terrorism to list.

So, what do we do? What do we, as young minds receiving an education from one of the best colleges in the United States, do? An article I read online asked: “Do we break plans with our friends because the world is breaking?”

I remembered something my grandfather once told me. “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

As I spent the weekend with my friends, doing homework and simply attempting to move forward, I also thought about myself and my life. I thought about how I treat others, and how I treat myself. In what areas of my life I put a lot of effort, and those in which I don’t give enough. I thought about the things I do that bring me fulfillment, and the things I do selfishly.

I could think of areas where I succeed, and many areas of my life in which I can improve. Again the obvious: none of us are perfect. But, in light of this crisis, how can we examine and then improve ourselves? Young, highly educated minds like ours are the ones that will shape our country and our globe’s future. How do we access that future? I think it’s our choices.

All 2,526 of us are vastly different, but we share one important commonality: we have the extreme privilege of attending Middlebury. It is up to us to decide how we use that privilege. We need to remember that all lives matter and all struggles are different; even though I feel deeply connected to what has happened in Paris, it does not in any way discount the loss of lives in Beirut, or change my understanding that many tragedies occur daily and only some get adequate discussion and media attention.

So how do we move forward? How do we create change? We move on from crises like these by pausing for self-reflection and honoring lives that have been lost, and then by living our lives fully the way any of the victims would wish that they could. Change isn’t something that has to be so big: it can be standing up for something you believe in during a class, joining a club on campus, reminding a loved one how much they mean to you…any small act of change makes a difference. The small and large choices you make at Middlebury and the views you develop while here will begin to shape your life.

This world has two forces: the power of good, and the power of evil. Students from elite universities like ours are the future. What will we do with that power? ​