Olympics meaningful in tough times

The global economy is in shambles. The national financial picture is dim. Illinois’ debt is growing exponentially. The University has asked its staff to reduce the number of days they work over the course of the year so that it can save money. Even with this measure, layoffs are still expected by the administration.

But that’s not all that now offers. Now is also a time for unity. It is a time for us as citizens to come together over something very special.

Every four years, like clockwork, countries from around the world celebrate. They celebrate something apart from the economy, apart from political rhetoric, apart from troubled schools. They celebrate a great tradition of athleticism, of competition, of mutual respect.

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver will begin Friday. They should and will be a cause for celebration. Over eighty countries are sending close to 5,500 athletes to compete in the winter games. We are more than proud to send Champaign’s own Katherine Reutter, who will be competing as the “Apolo Anton Ohno” of the women’s speed skating for the U.S. this year. We want to send our local competitor with the best of wishes and spirit.

This spirit of unity, understanding and cooperation is something that Champaign-Urbana must strive to keep. In a year where the University and graduate students made difficult strides together, where, according to President Stan Ikenberry, tuition is expected to rise by about 9.5 or 10 percent for incoming freshmen, where our school still does not have a permanent president, setting aside differences and weathering a difficult situation together as students, as faculty and as citizens of the University community is absolutely necessary. If the nations of the world must choose to come together, despite even vaster differences, surely we can do the same.

We must keep the Olympic spirit in mind over these next two weeks, but more importantly, we must keep it throughout the year. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. Our campus community has shared an Olympian once before – Bonnie Blair. She, also a speed skater who competed in three different Olympics, fostered a sense of community. Her gold medal wins propelled her to a place as one of the biggest women stars in Winter Olympics history. If you visit the Ice Arena here on campus, you’ll still see a plaque on the wall describing her achievements. Look for Katherine and Bonnie starring together in a Verizon commercial currently airing. When you see them, remember where they came from.

In these next few days, while you’re watching the Olympics, think about what the games really mean. They are more than an athletic event. They are an example of the great things people, states and countries can do when they realize that the differences in power and stability can be put aside.