The clock struck 12 midnight and people instinctively turned towards one another for a warm embrace. The distinctive sound of champagne being popped sounded in the distance, as the beat (arguably) dropped. My new year celebration had commenced with a bang and yet, amidst all that hullabaloo, I managed to muster a moment of reflection. A singular silent soliloquy to sum up 2016.
2016 will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the least celebrated years of the 2nd millennia; its infamy à la Donald Trump’s presidency, the proliferation of the threat posed by the so-called Islamic State, and my abysmal Grade Point Average (this one could just be me though). But upon closer inspection of these seemingly random events however, amidst the brouhaha of 2016, a recurring theme characterises it: unexpectedness.
Perhaps that is why so many people lament 2016. Let's be real - No one likes being shell-shocked into a situation which they had not prepared for. Funnily enough, and to localise it to our own lives, being 'blindsided' pretty much summarises being a university student as much as 2016 was caught unaware.
Before you lambast me for such an outrageous comparison, consider the following scenario:
Summer is a mere month away and you’re still on the lookout for your dream internship. One lazy afternoon, you receive an email (no disrespect, Hillary) requesting your presence at an interview. When you arrive at the office knowing fully well about the potential competition, you decide to take certain liberties with your previous work experience and grades -- when they ask if you feel up to the task, you reassure them that you are well-equipped to deal with whatever they throw at you, you have all the experience, you can handle anything. It's worth a shot anyway, no one's going to find out, you reason.
Much to your surprise, and secret relief, they offer you a position the next day and you accept excitedly. You tell your friends and family that you were a shoe-in for the job from the very beginning and the news was expected.
A month later, on your first day... the realisation that you are basically the lowest life-form in the office dawns on you. You know supervisor saw through your puff-piece cover letter and just hired you to do all his work in exchange for a pathetic wage, and that you should have spent your summer sleeping and binge watching Netflix instead. Yep, we pretty much have all been Donald Trump at one point or another. Despite appearances, I highly doubt that he himself was not floored at the fact that he actually won.
In the same way, we as students get blindsided as well. We instinctively "upsell" ourselves to radiate the sheen that a competitive job market demands. Sometimes, much to our surprise, it actually works. The dream is that we hopefully ease into our job and do it justice, much like the incoming leader of the free world is expected too to.
Few events in 2016 simultaneously created as profound an effect on so many people as the demonetisation of the Indian Rupee in November last year did. Like domino pieces cascading down from one to the next, the overnight monetary policy to demonetise 500 and 1000 Rupee notes shocked India’s economy, together with its 1.3 Billion citizens, in equal measure.
Perhaps, we must realise that we live in a time where it is sometimes beneficial for politicians to not keep to their campaign promises. Prime Minister Modi’s purported masterstroke has (at present) caused more harm than good, with the brunt of the effect falling on India’s poorest. Now, I’m no economist and cannot comment in good faith if demonetisation was the right move to thwart corruption or not, but, what I can say however, is that once again, we as university students have experienced the unexpected in a strikingly similar manner. Two words: Bell Curve.
You work relentlessly all year; foregoing parties, movie-marathons, and essentially having any fun all together. You need that A+. If not to see your parents beam with pride, maybe just to prove to yourself that you can get that elusive grade reserved for the best of the best. At the end of the semester, you are confident that your hard work has paid off. For once, you are excited for the release of results that you impatiently check the Component Grades page on E-learn every day. Your professor finally updates the page after weeks of radio silence:
Class participation: A+
Mid-term Examination: A+
Final Examination: A+
You’re ecstatic.!Now all you need to worry about is the other 4 modules you took because you’re obviously getting that A+ right?
Much like demonetisation, the bell-curve system was, on paper at least, conceived with good-intent. However, very few things in life translate into reality without distortion, and this is no exception. Even though it is meant to be a grading-aid, the system has its flaws. What could have been an A+ becomes an A-, and much like the citizens of India, you find yourself in a situation that is neither rational nor expected.
Not everything that happened in 2016 was dipped in tragedy, though it may certainly seem that way at times. Closer to home, we have actually had an uneventful year in comparison. Our political system is not under scrutiny, and your bank balance has held on to its value. If anything, 2016 was in many ways sunny Singapore’s year of triumph.
One would need to go no further than to look at our nations competitive sport performance in the international stage to realise that the unexpected is not always a bad thing. Many of our athletes took centre stage in Rio last year for the Olympics and Paralympics, and boy did they impress us. Yip Pin Xiu clinched not one, but two gold medals. The best part? That arbitrary A4-print stating that SMU Social Science students - compared to the other faculties - visit the school’s gym the least can now be taken down, thank-you-very-much.
As much as our home-grown talent may have trained hard to earn it, their victory arguably came as a surprise. Not because we didn’t have faith in them, but rather because they won despite the odds being stacked against them.
As university students, we are quite used to accomplishing the impossible. It’s not quite the same as winning a gold medal that is internationally acclaimed, but managing to finish a 10,000 word essay in 3 days instead of 3 months, comes close.
Now that we are well into 2017, you may be wondering how to keep to your new year’s resolution, how to shed that ‘holiday weight’ (again, that could just be me), or even how to tackle the new semester. Whatever it is, when you find yourself perplexed at the curve-balls life throws at you, just stop and remember 2016.
Remember that it was the year of the blindside; the year where everything could have gone wrong, and did. And then remember that you’re a university student who deals with the unexpected every single day – from Brexit-esque Telegram group chat exits to pop quizzes that are more unexpected than Trump’s win.