Holding back my yawns upon the cold New Jersey beach, I watched as the first sunlight of 2017 turned the gray waters of the Atlantic a fiery red. Despite the biting cold of the winter wind, I was glad that I roused myself to see the magnificent sunrise; I saw it as a sign for a new beginning after the tragedies of 2016.

The sun was the same sun that shined on all the days of 2016. It did not undergo a physical renewal during the fifteen hours of darkness that separated December 31 from January 1. But I, and millions of others, saw this daybreak as more than an astronomical phenomenon. We took it as hope for a more peaceful year: a reprieve for the millions who died in Syria, who were betrayed by their government in South Korea, who suffered from the terrible storm in Haiti. As a human being, I sympathize with their pain and wish that their agonies will end. Nevertheless, we cannot hope that the disasters that started in 2016 will end simply because the year 2017 has begun; we need to act diligently to make sure that our hopes for a better 2017 are not in vain.

My wishes do not mean that those suffering human rights abuses and political violations will be rescued from their respective predicaments. I may mean well and the sun may have had shone ever so brightly upon that beach, but the people cursed with grief and sorrow did not see their fortunes change. Only three days after New Year’s Day, there was yet another attack on innocents in Istanbul. Even worse, many of us took the deplorable terrorist assault as an unfortunate, but expected event. Perhaps we have become so accustomed to violence and hatred that we believe these actions have become the norm. Perhaps we have lost the capacity to hope for a better world.

I myself have fallen into this trap of apathy and wishful thinking. In the nineteen years of my life, I have been a witness to death and destruction, from the 9/11 attacks, to the Syrian refugee crisis. I have watched as millions were killed, enslaved, and deprived of their fundamental human rights. But their pains did not directly affect me. I lived in a world sundered from tragedy; my greatest personal problems to date were my choice of college and a nonexistent love life. It was easy for me to express my condolences on social media or while talking to my friends; I could hide from comforting those who were desperate for any aid or from confronting those responsible for these calamities. I did not want to risk my own life or my time and did only the bare minimum necessary to appear as if I did care; I was more than happy to allow others to actively alleviate the suffering of the world as I laid back.

I believe, however, that the year 2017 will be different. The sunrise that day did signify a change in the fortunes of the inhabitants of the world and my own heart. It symbolized the opportunity for those of us who can rebuild to begin restoring the world after the destruction of 2016. But the future is not created by wishes or the whims of a calendar. It is built by the actions that we take to improve the injuries of the world and thereby propel the creation of harmonious societies which can be as simple as crafting opinion pieces for a college newspaper and spreading awareness about world events. As for me, it is time that I stop hiding behind a mask and actually begin doing more for those suffering the evils of the world, despite the challenges that may await me. Although these individual actions may not be grandiose or far-reaching by themselves, they can together trigger a chain of events which can transform the world itself and make the possibility of peace for 2017 not a mere hope, but a promise.

Daehee Lee is a freshman from Palisades Park, NJ. He can be reached at daeheel@princeton.edu.

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