Opinion: A letter to the Class of 2020 from a 2020 AU graduate

Our experience at AU taught us how important it is to speak up, show up and stand out

Opinion: A letter to the Class of 2020 from a 2020 AU graduate

Dear Class of 2020, it is our time to pay it forward.

For many, these uncertain times have prompted us to reminisce and look back on when our lives were more normal. As the Class of 2020 begins the next chapter of our lives, I think it would be a good idea for all of us to do the same thing and look back on the moments that have helped shape our University’s community.

All of us came to AU for different reasons, whether it was to attend college to make our parents happy or to graduate with a neuroscience degree that will inevitably be more valuable once the Hall of Science opens. No matter the reason, as Eagles, we are more than just students. 

Our individuality can be seen through the countless ways we have committed ourselves to campus involvement, like with Mock Trial and Caribbean Circle, or with clubs that are more uniquely AU, like the Cheese Club. Despite all of our various interests, I believe there is a common thread that runs through the heart of our community. It is a value that is rooted in our University's history, whether it be in 1970 when students shut down Ward Circle in protest of the Vietnam War or during my first couple weeks of college when I joined my fellow classmates on the steps of MGC to protect the rights of our campus employees. As recent AU alumni, we learned to speak up against injustice, show up for the less privileged and stand out against naysayers. 

As a generation, we have been forged by the leaders and movements who have both come before us and met us in the present. That includes revolutionary figures from the civil rights movement, like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., those we grew up with, and those we recently mourned, like former U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md). We were also shaped by the suffragists who strengthened the fight for women’s rights in the late 19th century and the women who stood united under a common cause as they walked in the Women’s March on Washington. There were the Stonewall Riots and gay and QPOC activists, without whom we would not have a campus where I can feel safe to share my bisexual identity. New movements in our world today like the March for Our Lives and young activists like Greta Thunberg have inspired a generation of students to take the helm of activism and make a difference within their community.

Now, more than ever, it is our time to pay it forward. We were given the gift of attending a University that helped forge us into transformational leaders, advocates and fighters for all things just. Like dull pieces of coal turned into shiny diamonds under pressure, the experiences we share have forced us to rise to the occasion and become the warriors for good we were meant to be. As a community, and as human beings, we are under that pressure more than ever, by an invisible entity that we can either let divide or unite us. Only time will prove how we choose to act. One thing, however, is undoubtedly certain. If we squander this time, we become the enemies of our dreams and become a part of the system of oppression that has plagued this world for far too long. 

After becoming the first from my family to earn a college degree, I keep two things in mind. The first, no matter what curveball life throws, we can always find a way to serve and bring impactful change — whether it be small acts of kindness, like the good Samaritans buying groceries for their fearful neighbors or the gladiators in scrubs, risking their lives for the betterment of others. And the second is that I will use what AU and its faculty, staff, campus employees and student body have instilled in all of us — the desire to serve and the hope that I will do my part in leaving the world a better place. 

We graduated in a time of uncertainty and the future may look darker than the D.C. skyline, but the Class of 2020 is well-prepared to face the challenges ahead and use what American University has taught us: to speak up, show up and stand out.

Ryan Barto served as AUSG chief of staff for the 2019-2020 academic year and is a member of the Class of 2020 who graduated from the School of Public Affairs.

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