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Distinguished Feature | Lockdown: Growth in Times of Despair

By: Neil Espino

As you may know, Project Ripples Tell Your Story Essay Competition was initially intended to have a fixed set of winners. This made our job as judges an extremely difficult one. It is almost impossible to differentiate a sole winner from a pool of limitless talent. The following essay is truly something special. Because there were only a limited number of essays we could have chosen as winners, many extraordinary essays were unfortunately unable to receive the spotlight they deserve. The following essay is truly something special. It is so moving in insight and wisdom we could not help but share it with all of you.

It is incredibly difficult to describe the level of intellect reflected in this essay. It is the story of self-reflection and recognition of oneself in the grand scheme of life. It shows the unmeasurable wisdom one student gained despite the chaos that surrounded him. Let the words speak for themselves. This is Lockdown: Growth in Times of Dispair by Neil Espino:

Meaning is decided, not discovered. While humanity faces a global catastrophe, I explore the route of self-discovery and realization.

When COVID-19 first surfaced, people underestimated its potential to harm humanity. People disregarded the necessary preemptive measures against the virus. We could have avoided this, but we did not. Now, while most of the world remains in lockdown, we are beset by the consequences of our idiocy. Economies around the globe are suffering, and unrest spreads among the masses. People have died, and dreams have ended: all these, because we were ignorant.

Not only has the pandemic dealt a huge blow to human society, but it also has been a disruptive element which, to this day, greatly affects our personal lives. For instance, I did not graduate. I spent the last twelve years of my life looking forward to what was supposed to be the day I reap the fruit of all my hard work. Sure, I received my diploma, but certain moments are inherently valuable solely because they are fleeting and impermanent. I, like all other graduating students of my generation, was deprived of that once-in-a-lifetime moment. The situation denied my family the chance to celebrate my success, and instead, we now find ourselves quarantined at home, waiting for the worst to pass.

I am furious, and I have every right to feel that way, but others have it worse: people are suffering under the abominable reign of the ruling class. Blinded by privilege, those who possess continually impose their rules unto those who do not. Immanuel Kant’s formula of universality states, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should be a universal law.” Yet, the excessively privileged act according to maxims ludicrous to those who cannot access the same prerogatives. The existence of such injustice vexes me; society hides under the façade of equality and progress when, in truth, it is rotten to the core.

In my youth, I was promised the world. What lies ahead is hell.

To cope with the anger rising within me, I decided to spend my time in quarantine productively and study as much as I could. I have taken a particular interest in Kantian philosophy. Kant defines enlightenment as man’s ability to think for himself. To be enlightened is to question the very foundations of our society and seek our own answers. I ponder: does man ever truly think for himself? Does he make a hypocrite of himself when he adheres to a standard of which he is skeptical? In the context of today’s unjust reality, he who is blind merely refuses to see. I refuse to be blind; I choose to see the world for what it truly is.

Looking deeper into Kantian ethics, I realize my own imperfect duty of self-improvement. As such, I have been spending time trying to truly understand myself as a person. I assess my own emotions in hopes of truly knowing what it is that I wish to achieve. I started acknowledging my flaws, filling the necessary gaps within me that may become better. The world is an atrocious place. That does not mean we cannot be good. As COVID-19 forces us into isolation, we are granted the opportunity to reflect on our values.

In this fast-paced age, perhaps we all need a breather.

To conclude this essay, I present a question asked most frequently in the field of philosophy: what is the meaning of life? Many minds greater than me have answered differently, but to me, the meaning of life is whatever meaning you give to it. Be it the endless struggle against the absurd or the search for justice, life varies for all of us. Amidst all the chaos of today’s world, however dreadful it may be, I make it a point to try and live a life worth living.

One thing is for sure: I shall come out of this a better person.

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