My 21st birthday present is a President Trump.
Within 24 hours of Trump's ascension to the Oval Office, I will turn 21 years old. The beginning of my officially recognized adult life will be marked by a new administration, a new radical shift in the policy climate and new promises of law and order. I catapult into some of my most formative years alongside a generation uncertain about what exactly we are on the brink of. My welcome into a new era will be accompanied, side-by-side, with his.
I remember Election Night with a vividness I wholeheartedly wish I could shed. Abroad in Italy, I watched numbers trickle in on my living room television screen as the sun slowly climbed from the depths of the horizon. Across the ocean and far from home, darkness and quiet surrounded me as well as a growing sense of nightmarish foreboding. It was strange to feel so far from the election in contrast to the proximity I felt to it while working on the campaign trail this past summer. I remember the waves of nausea and perturbed disbelief I experienced, sitting in my crumpled Hillary t-shirt as red and blue maps glowed on the screen. The statistics did not make sense to me.
The sun rose that Wednesday morning, as President Obama promised it would, just like it will tomorrow. I have lived through only two Presidential administrations in my lifetime: those of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. My memories of Bush's time in office are blurry. The past eight years have constituted my political education and awareness. As Sasha and Malia grew up, so did I. While my parents know that "the path this country has taken has never been a straight line," I have yet to experience serious upheavals and transfers of power. I know I am naïve.
In the days that followed, I did not want to read stories about disappointment, fear or shock. Maybe that was selfish. But I searched relentlessly for words that could bring me solace, allow me to extract shreds of hope and gain a more comprehensive understanding about why things turned out the way they did. Obama calmly assured Americans, "We zig and we zag and sometimes we move in ways that some people think is forward and others think is moving back." I read a quote by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. that resonated with me. "History, by putting crisis in perspective, supplies the antidote to every generation's illusion that its own problems are uniquely oppressive." I found comfort in reminders that America has been in similar positions before. Adults kept saying that Americans are resilient. Time pays no heed to our emotions and we trudge onwards.
As November unfolded, I felt surging rushes of disutility and fruitlessness which I initially could not place. I experienced feelings of recognition, and then embarrassment, that I had been unconsciously patting myself on the back throughout this journey. I realized that nothing I have written, nor actions I have taken in an effort to have impact, has actually reached my intended audiences. Words carry weight, but I had convinced myself that mine were influential beyond the small sphere that comprises my community. They merely circulate among Duke's echo chamber and bounce back to me. I appreciate this supportive atmosphere for the ways in which it has fostered my growth, encouraged me and heightened my passion, but I am disappointed I never pushed myself harder to puncture through it.
North Carolina is a purple battleground, fraught with tension and longstanding issues of race. Duke's backyard is a microcosm -- a petri dish -- demonstrating the myriad of ways Americans are struggling to connect with each other, at least enough to find common ground.
More than anything, this election has imparted upon me that I must proactively seek out diversity of experiences and opinions because they will not fall into my lap. As someone who loves stories, I know that everybody has one. The undocumented migrant worker in California has one. The Trump supporter in rural Alabama has one. The union worker in Pennsylvania has one too. I feel compelled to find these narratives and absorb them like a sponge. Everyone's reality is different, but all of the trials and tribulations Americans experience culminate in their choices.
"We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike." Maya Angelou's words ring truer now than ever. I hope that solutions can be extracted from her assurance. I want these words to mean compassion's survival. I wish them to signify Americans' saving grace.
One week after the election, I Skyped a Duke faculty member and mentor with whom I am close. Something he said struck me. He told me that he believed all of my education and training thus far has been preparing me for this unique moment in history and the political world that lies ahead.
That gave me reason for pause. Being in the majority is easy, he affirmed -- though admittedly more fun. But fighting for something with a sense of purpose and resistance demands a different type of grit.
For better or worse, my day of birth will always be tied to the presidency and political climate of my time. This year, I will usher in a President Trump. The "highest and hardest glass ceiling" encasing America has not yet shattered, but someday my birthday will mark the inauguration of the first female president. Or the first Jewish president. Or the first Muslim president. Or the first gay president. And all of those who follow.
I will celebrate.