A popular existentialist parable describes life as a road trip down a muddy path. As your car traverses down the road, it kicks up mud that flies every which way. You attempt to keep your course steady and hope that you don’t hit any obstacles obstructing your path—so your success is based on blind faith and pure luck.
In this metaphor, the road ahead is the future: forever obscured by the mud splattered across your windshield. Your side windows are proxies for the present; while we never gain true understanding of events as they happen, we can observe and perceive them through the gaps in the mud splatter. Finally, our completely clear rear-view window is the past. Hindsight, for the existentialist, is indeed 20/20.
For those in the sphere of public policy, hindsight is also held in the highest regard. When speaking in this field, knowledge and understanding of past events is known as “institutional memory”: that is, the collective body of information held within an organization owing to the past. Take Professor Dennis Grube, co-director of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy, for example, who states that institutional memory “act[s] as an information repository which enables the business of government to carry on across succeeding administrations.” The significance of organizational hindsight is exemplified in the fact that only 10 percent of staff at the White House is replaced at the beginning of each new presidency. Rising above partisan squabbles, institutional memory has proven an essential aspect of any group’s success, even amongst the most charged and divisive issues. In keeping traditions alive and reviving ones lost to time, nothing is more helpful than the insights of those who have deep-rooted memories of events that transpired in the past.
Thus, of all the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, one might argue that the loss of institutional memory has most deeply crippled the Lawrenceville community. As it stands today, only 140 students—barely over half of the Class of 2023—have any recollection of a Lawrenceville unburdened by the effects of Covid. Amongst ourselves, seniors speak nostalgically of the vibrancy Lawrenceville seemed to possess at that time: the way the sun seemed to shine brighter, the way people seemed to smile wider, and the way the winter cold didn’t bite quite so harshly. I don’t think it’s outlandish to claim that the pandemic had a net-negative effect on our campus. We always speak of returning Lawrenceville to its pre-Covid days and getting back to “normal,” yet in truth, our student body quite simply does not know what “normal" even means.
Though the tense atmosphere of last year that climaxed with an unprecedented Town Hall meeting has subsided, I certainly cannot claim that Lawrenceville has completely recovered from its existential angst. As Student Council President, I witness and am conscious every day of the general discontent of our student body. We are past the point of crafting angry letters accusing Lawrenceville of robbing us of a proper high school experience, and I believe we’ve replaced this anger with an even more dangerous feeling: apathy. Left without the foundation of institutional memories from which to draw inspiration, our community has grown apathetic to lacking a definitive campus culture.
In the absence of the institutional memory that once inspired our efforts, I think it’s time that we shed off some of the relics of the past we’ve been holding on to for the sake of tradition. If weekly School Meeting leaves our community bored and unfulfilled, then perhaps it’s time we shift to holding the event biweekly, monthly, or even once a term. If the experiences of students in the Crescent and Circle are so disparate, maybe it’s time that Lawrenceville takes the first revolutionary step in creating gender-neutral dorms on campus. If the job of Student Council President is too much for one V Former, it could be prudent to take a page out of Hill’s book and split the role between two students. Of course, some of these things are easier said than done, but this moment of uncertainty provides us with the perfect opportunity for trial and error through reinvention?.
Today, we members of the Lawrenceville community are passengers in a car traveling down a muddy road. Our rear-view mirror has been obstructed by the pandemic in such a way that we can’t begin to fathom the path we’ve traveled. Through little gaps in the mud on our side windows, we see nothing but grey apathy: yet another boring School Meeting, another monotonous week, or another mass exodus from campus on Saturday night. Neither of these perspectives seems very promising. The only other option, then, is to try to get rid of the mud obscuring the way forward. If we can no longer look into the past, and the present seems rather bleak, we can do little more than work towards crafting a better future.