Remembering the big picture

THE MOST common question I have been asked this year is, "Why are you graduating in three years?" I just feel pulled in so many different directions. In my time here, I have discovered what I am passionate about: I care about rural poverty and political literature and environmental stewardship. To be a "successful" student at the University, however, I have to also care about astronomy and economics -- at least enough to show up to class and do the reading. I've been encouraged by a columnist in this newspaper to be "the leader of one organization, on the executive board of another, and an active member of a third." That sort of existence has exhausted me, and I don't want to be so tired that when I leave the University community, I can't make a meaningful impact on other places in the world.

Coming from a community where fewer than half of any given high school class goes on to attend a four-year college or university, I am incredibly thankful for my education. But I want to go and make sure others get that chance. So I am leaving the cozy confines of Charlottesville for a small town in West Virginia where I'll work on some cultural tourism projects through Americorps.

Why do I feel the need to justify myself to you, dear reader? Because I don't want the same thing to happen to you. I don't want you to get as tired or worried about the little things as I have done for the last three years. Our lives are happening right now. The years we spend here are not merely preparation for the "real world" -- a lesson I have learned only in the last few weeks. As taxpayers, customers, and members of a University that prides itself on "student-self governance," we have the opportunity to shape the direction of a billion-dollar institution, if we really commit ourselves to it.

I didn't set out to change the world with this column. I knew when I submitted my trial columns that I didn't have anything new to say about Darfur or Iraq or even the current state of the Democratic Party. Some of these columns were cathartic and helped me vent frustrations I had to keep private while on the News side of the wall between that section and Opinion. But mostly I just tried to get the few people who pick up a paper on Thursdays to think differently about the role students could be playing in our University community. That proved to be a tall order when this paper was simultaneously calling for us to abandon the hope of getting big changes through Student Council and even questioning the appropriateness of doing so. Maybe students do care more about having to walk around the train tracks than we do about affordable housing or how the University conducts its business practices. This semester, however, I have heard a rumble in your e-mails, letters to the editor and overheard conversations on the Lawn that suggests otherwise.

So I am leaving you all who are still reading to fight the good fight. Go beyond University unity and pedestrian bridges and arguments over CIO funding (although I still find it strange the Sailing Club allegedly gets $60,000 a year from our student activities fees). Hold each other accountable. Hold this newspaper accountable to reflect and challenge our community's standards. In the news pages, demand more than two sides to every story. In the opinion pages, question why the administration deserves yet another voice when so many students have been drowned out.

My daddy, a reporter at the Roanoke Times and the reason I first timidly entered the basement of Newcomb Hall, has told me time and again that the job of the journalist -- much like the Christian -- is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. It is my hope that The Cavalier Daily will one day embrace this philosophy without worrying how administrators or student leaders will respond. Maybe you should try to do that, too. Because if you really want to change the little bit of the world which has been allotted to you, you should put down this newspaper and go do it. It's not going to get done otherwise.

Maggie Thornton's column appeared Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at mthornton@cavalierdaily.com.

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