One of my best friends has a great memory, and, over the years, she has become the de facto historian of our friend group. She can remember all the important things: the shenanigans, where we were, who we were with. That kind of memory is a gift to all of her friends, and it demonstrates an important lesson for a year as tumultuous as 2020. With two vaccines for COVID-19 entering new phases of testing, a semester on campus, and a new year fast approaching, some people are justifiably itching to move on. These developments should undoubtedly be celebrated, as should the prospect of a fresh start. But, just like my friend, we cannot forget everything we have been through: Instead, should find creative and healthy ways to catalogue all that has happened in 2020.
Having all heard the adage about the importance of learning from history, nearly all of us would agree that history will be an important resource for our collective future. However, learning from history requires an accurate account of it. In a politically polarized age where entire systems of profit depend on capturing the attention of customers, there is a dwindling incentive to present verified and unbiased information. For example, there may be a generation of Americans who cannot agree on whether President Donald Trump lost his re-election or had it stolen out from under him.
Justifying the importance of (or even possibility of) an unbiased and exhaustive historical record is beyond the scope of this article, so it will be assumed. In order for us to move on from this year, we need to comprehensively catalogue exactly what happened, collectively and individually. However, we need to ask ourselves whether we will trust already flawed institutions and for-profit media to write our history for us and to what degree we will save moments of history for ourselves. To a certain extent, scrapbooks can become textbooks. While they should not be used as objective histories, these personal histories of 2020 can serve as markers for those events and moments that meant most to us.
One might reasonably argue that keeping personal records of such traumatic and divisive times places an undeserved burden on the individual. However, recording the brokenness of this year will be a template for our future. As individuals stitch together those painful moments, they will equip themselves for a future increasingly defined by the individual, mass mobilization, and the democratization of power structures. Having personal mementos from this year will enable us to see what was broken and which systems failed so that we might prevent that from repeating in the future.
The final reason to remember this year in a special, unique, individual way is out of respect: respect for the hundreds of thousands of people in the United States and around the globe who have died from this virus, respect for those beaten down by systems of oppression, respect for those who have are suffering under the weight of isolation, and respect for those who have been calling out these injustices for decades now. It is nothing less than our duty to ensure that the future we build fully recognizes and repairs the flawed society that failed us in these trying times. It is out of respect for one another that we must never forget.
Dillion Gallagher is a sophomore in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. He can be reached at email@example.com.