Wow. What a year. 

While attempting to write this letter, we quickly realized that understanding or summarizing 2020 in a mere couple hundred words is hard. Nonetheless, there have been quite a few monumental events that have shaped the world as we know it today. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, ushering in an era of social distancing measures and a transition to remote work and learning. In late May, the deaths of George Floyd and Regis Korchinski-Paquet spurred global protests to end police brutality and racial injustice. The devastating wildfires in Australia and the west coast of America highlighted the urgency of our climate crisis. And over the past 11 months, one word has come up time and time again: essential

Our magazine is an exploration of how this word, one that has taken on a whole new meaning, manifests in our everyday lives. We set out to answer the question of what “essential” has come to mean. What do we deem essential? To take it a step further, what should we deem essential, and what do we take for granted? Although the future seems more uncertain now than ever before, we wanted to reflect on our present and on where we can go from here.  

To us, “essential” means anything that sustains life—anything that brings us joy, provides us with agency, or grounds us with a sense of security. 

The pieces in this magazine attempt to create their own definitions of the word. Chris Berberian takes the starkest approach by contemplating the word “essential” itself. Elizabeth Provost shares her first-hand account of working at a grocery store during the pandemic, coming to terms with modern society’s consumerist ideals. Vera Senel writes about the environmental crisis at a time when the global pandemic has largely minimized the issue. Sarah-May Edwardo-Oldfield reflects on the Black Lives Matter movement and the necessity of human rights. And in our pieces, we explore the resilient nature of artists and the ever-changing idea of home.

Years from now, when we think back to 2020, we’ll remember the novel coronavirus and how generally awful this year was. But that’s only one way to look at it. While this year might not have been what we expected, it has forced us to re-evaluate. We’ve become more sensitive to the things that are so quintessentially important for the world to function, such as sustainability, equity, and the importance of building community. Most importantly, 2020 has given us a chance to reset. In a lot of ways, this year has been about going back to the basics. It’s been about what really matters: changing how we behave, how we consume, and how we relate to each other.

This magazine acknowledges the bad but focuses on the good. 

Despite everything, we’re optimistic.

Paula Cho and Ali Taha

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