The Legacy of a Moment: Wheaton bids farewell

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Diane Huang

Columnist Riley Wheaton bids farewell in his last column for The Observatory.

What’s the legacy of a moment? What’s the legacy of a conversation or a test or a play or a column? We spend our lives worrying about moments. “I’ve gotta impress this person so they’ll like me” or “I’ve gotta do well on this test” or “it is vitally important that this play be spectacular” or “this column must be the most inspirational ever written.” Every moment feels like the most important one in the universe until it’s passed, but what is the legacy of a moment? What does a conversation leave behind when both parties forget everything that was said? Tests loom large on the night before, but they shrink to obscurity within the vast mass of year long grades. Plays, for all the months of memorization, sweat, tears, and hope, get performed maybe three times and then they’re gone. A bright explosive moment of emotion which will probably be forgotten by the audience when they wake up the next morning.

If I’ve made you think more deeply then I’m satisfied.”

— Riley Wheaton, columnist

So what do we leave behind? Every conversation changes the way each party views every other party, the idea shapes that represent every conversant in the mind of every other conversant become more contoured, more nuanced. Tests have small impacts individually but each one represents a data point which shows a trend, and if that trend heads downward then problems ensue. Every play hopes to captivate its audience for awhile and lead them out of their lives and into the lives onstage, but it also hopes to leave some piece of creative shrapnel buried in the crania of a few audience members. The fondest hope of a cast is that something of the show, some thought or idea or impulse toward empathy, will stick in the mind of an audience member or two. What legacy is left by a column?

In this column we’ve examined everything from the uncertain future of the human race to the profound importance of sleep in our daily lives. We’ve tackled sexism and racism and perhaps we’ve taken a few thought-steps on the road to solutions. This column has involved audience feedback from the moment it came out but most notably in its suggestion box. At the start of the year I set the goal that this column would be a conversation between myself and the audience. It may only have happened to a limited extent but every time one of you found me in the halls to talk about the column or left a suggestion or note in my box I was overjoyed that you’d taken time out of your day to engage with a piece of my humble work.

It’s easy to get greatness by shaping passion. It’s impossible to get it by trying to polish drivel.”

— Riley Wheaton, columnist

But you and I haven’t always seen eye to eye, audience. Sometimes you’ve thought I was too liberal or not liberal enough. Sometimes you thought I was just flat out wrong, and sometimes some of you actually hated me. Theologians use the phrase “necessary other” to describe a viewpoint or a person who runs counter to our own beliefs and who helps clarify what we think or lead us to new understanding. I hope that in those times when we’ve disagreed, that this column has served as a necessary other for you and has brought you to greater understanding. If it has caused you to explore and think in new ways and yet has led you back to disagreeing with me, then I will sleep easily in the knowledge of a job well done. If I’ve made you think more deeply then I’m satisfied.

In that vein, I hope that my necessary other has helped you reach greater empathy. I spoke about empathy in my speech but I’ll reinforce it once more. All of the topics we covered, from stereotype threat to asking someone to prom, benefit from empathy. I sought, in my writing process, to speak always from a place of empathy and I hope that you take empathy into your heart as something to consider the next time you’re faced with a challenge.

I hope that this column has made you laugh from time to time. I mentioned that the role of art is to captivate you for however long it has your attention (the same words I used eight months ago at the start of this journey) and I hope I’ve done that too. Robert Frost famously said that “if we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.” Comedy keeps us healthy and drama keeps us inspired. Without both we wouldn’t be productive beings. So I hope I’ve made you laugh as well as think from time to time.

When you’re feeling down or insufficient or feeling like the world is a dark place, look up. Look up at the stars. And look up at the people around you. Look up beyond yourself and step into another perspective for a moment.”

— Riley Wheaton, columnist

I hope that this column has been an examplar of passion and curiosity. I never wrote a column I didn’t truly believe in. Most of these columns were written late at night. I’d stride back and forth around the house when a few drops of inspiration would spring from the dam of my brain, followed by a few more, and a few more, until a flood would burst out and sweep me to my computer. Passion like that, inspiration like that, should never be wasted because it’s one of the best feelings in the world. Is it always organized? Nope. Is it always perfectly formed when it comes out the first time? Never, but if you can capture that river of inspiration on the screen then you can shape it more carefully later. It’s easy to get greatness by shaping passion. It’s impossible to get it by trying to polish drivel.

And whenever I wrote a column I learned new things. If you remember nothing else about the Observatory, remember its name. When you’re feeling down or insufficient or feeling like the world is a dark place, look up. Look up at the stars. And look up at the people around you. Look up beyond yourself and step into another perspective for a moment. Train your telescopes for the heights to which our humanity can soar and train them on the soaring beings that surround you. Curiosity can save us from stagnation and all it takes is the will to look up.

Twenty columns. Twenty journeys down the rabbit hole we’ve taken together.”

— Riley Wheaton, columnsit

Legacy. Lin Manuel Miranda wrote that legacy is “planting seeds in a garden you will never see.” In my place next year you’ll have five independent content producers, so you’ll have a veritable forest! I’ve sought to answer the question “what is the legacy of this moment? Of this column?” but in the end I don’t know. It’s made me a better person. I hope it’s helped make the school better in a small way. I hope that some bit of it, something I wrote or something you felt, will remain in your brain. I hope you’ll remember to think and laugh and empathize and be passionate and curious. I hope that this moment has made a ripple in the lives of one or two of you. I hope I was able to captivate your attention for awhile and draw you out of your own lives like artists are supposed to. I hope I made you think, and laugh, and feel.

Twenty columns. Twenty journeys down the rabbit hole we’ve taken together. The best I can say is the deepest and most heartfelt thank you to everyone who read this column, whether you read it once or twenty times.

I wanted this column to be a conversation, so I think the most appropriate way to end it is to do so like you’d end a conversation.

I have to go. Talk to you soon. Goodbye.

~Riley Wheaton, columnist