Upon our release from arrival quarantine, a good friend and I decided to celebrate with a socially-distanced walk around campus. We had no real destination in mind but rather hoped to take in as much as we can of the campus that we had been separated from for 10 months. She reminded me of the chaos that defined the last few days on campus before we were ushered all over the country: all the events and memories, the pledges and promises. On the advice of a member of the Class of 2020, our friends had pledged to simply look up when we walked around campus instead of staring down at our phones or our feet. In that spirit, my friend and I spent the rest of our walk grimacing at gargoyles flying several stories up, trying to make out the faces and animals swooping over us like we were kids in a very beautiful playground.
This dictum — “look up” — has several implications, ranging from a simple change of habit that could inspire creativity and confidence, to a serious mentality for navigating times fraught with, and sometimes defined by, increasing physical, social, and political isolation.
This enforced isolation has meant that the crucial preventative measures, such as frequent testing, social distancing, mask-wearing, and virtual classes, have taken a toll on our mental health, especially without the respite that regular social interaction normally brings us in an already stressful Princeton experience.
To mitigate the physical isolation required of us, try to go outside as often as you can, despite the winter bite in the air. When you walk, keep your eyes up. It’s vital that you pull your mind away from the familiar path in front of you and let it rest instead on the buildings, the people, the spaces, and the life around you. From the perspectives of the squirrels, and hopefully other people, you will have assumed a more confident, more open physical posture. Your point of reference for where you are will not be the indistinct asphalt, but the very qualities that make our campus and community so intriguing.
If your only sight, memory, or perception of a certain building is your own entrance into it, then of course you will never recognize just how imposing, intimidating, and — sometimes — entirely impossible it is for others to enter. If you only watch your own feet as you wind through life, then of course you will never see the whole path, as it stretches and connects, severs and circumscribes structures of all kinds — old and new, natural and manmade, imposing and inviting. Of course you will never know just how easy or difficult your own path may be. You will not recognize the passion or plight with which your peers and friends walk at the same time, not what they might be walking toward or with whom they are keeping pace.
It is these considerations which indicate that although there may be some deviation in where we are all headed, looking up can also help us reckon with these times, fraught as they are with social and political division. While we trek the familiar path up the hill toward Nassau, we might remember the Democratic House Managers as they marched with impeachment articles against former U.S. President Donald Trump for the second time. Others might seek to find footing while rebuilding a fractured Republican party. When we stroll through Prospect Garden or to our favorite dining hall, we might carry the burden of knowing, or being, one of the millions of Americans who have slipped into poverty because of COVID-19.
Whatever your path as you walk through campus, through the world, through life itself, remember to look up when you walk. Take in as much as you can. For once, you may not be so focused on your pre-ordained path, and, instead, you might deviate toward something that has piqued your interest. Appreciate that there is more to see of the structures and spaces around you than just the few feet in front of your own. Understand your real position among all this wonder before it is pulled away from your grasp, and try to glimpse the full horizon in front of you. See what surrounds you — good, bad, and far too complex to be either — and take your next steps more confidently, more compassionately, and more aware than ever.
Look up, and keep going.
Dillion Gallagher is a sophomore planning to major in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org