When I began working for the forum section in the fall of this past year, I didn’t know what to expect. What would I write on? Who else would contribute to the section? Did my articles really matter if no one read the paper? Time and again, I was surprised by this section and by the importance opinions had within our community. Every week, I learned about a range of topics from a recent spike in violence in Bangladesh to the qualities of one of our own Lewiston mayoral candidates. I learned that the paper has a strong readership and that students are not afraid to respond to articles published in The Student. But what struck me weekly about every piece was the nuanced arguments authors made and many times the thought-out responses and conversations that were born out of 550 to 750 words. The eloquence and intelligence of my peers provided me with solace knowing that these Batesies would go out into the world with the same poised passion they displayed in their articles and have a hand in shaping the future of our world economically, politically, socially and in a myriad of other ways I cannot even conceive of at the moment.
Many weeks, I struggled to settle on a topic or felt that the opinion I took in a piece would somehow reflect poorly on me or bring to light the true princess qualities I like to keep hidden from the majority of people. However, as the year progressed, and I got feedback from friends, professors, and peers on the work I was doing, I came to understand that every viewpoint is valuable; you may not agree with it, you may find it offensive, but there is always something to be gained, a new piece of knowledge to discover when well-supported opinions are presented, understood, and debated about. Even when you feel your opinion may be a minority one or you may face backlash for expressing it, it is valuable, even if it is only known by you. It can feel awkward and uncomfortable to say something you don’t think will be well received or to put yourself in a position to take criticism, but if we all exist within our careful constructed circles of similar opinions, we miss out on expanding and affirming our own beliefs. Encourage varied viewpoints, but don’t seek them out just to say you did. Understand your own opinion and why it is valid in order to allow yourself to see validity in all opinions, provided they are not threatening to the safety of others.
So what is my point here? The biggest takeaway I have from my year with the forum section is opinions matter, oftentimes more than facts. Read a lot, learn a lot, and engage with as many different types of people as possible. In the current sociopolitical climate, things can feel hopeless and cyclical. Insecurity and the feeling of being unheard can hinder progress on individual and organizational levels. We must ground ourselves in the lessons we have learned at Bates, use our knowledge to express nuanced opinions, and work to make sure every opinion is heard. At this point in all of our lives, about to embark on a varied set of great paths, a general feeling of lack of control can haunt us, but we must remember our voice matters, our vote counts, and we are capable of change.