What do you think your legacy will be?

The Wolf Staff

On the tail of the queen’s death, a woman who was known of by so many and known by so few, we can’t help but wonder what will be left of us after we are gone. We feel the need to warn you this will not be the succinct opinion that the editorial usually strives for, but more so a collection of unanswerable questions that demanded to be written down. 

What does legacy mean? Is it our teachings and inspirations that remain long after us? Is it the students accepted to Harvard only because their parents went? Is it a tangible value that can be measured and passed to our children? Is it the idea of the person that only exists to those who have never closely known us? 

Perhaps it is all these things, and defining legacy simply does not do justice to its meaning. A king’s legacy is how he is remembered for what he did, once he no longer remains. A teacher’s legacy is how they affected their field, and how they influenced their students, once they no longer teach. Our legacy as students will be what we managed to accomplish during our time, only reflected upon once we no longer occupy this building. And maybe that is the essence of legacy: it only exists in its infancy when we are there to watch over it. It’s only once we have left the space that it may blossom, and it can only exist once we are no longer there to know of it. 

Legacy can’t be confined to one presumption. It’s two things: a person and their persona; it’s who it continues to live on through, and how they choose to carry out that memory. This creates a paradox: if who you are is carried on by both those who knew you and those who didn’t, do they both work to create your legacy, or are memory and legacy inherently separate? 

With legacy comes the question of reputation, which could be described as a version of legacy that exists closer to us; it thrives while we are alive and is replaced with legacy once we are gone. We spend our lives creating reputations for ourselves, and years making them for others. Every day we make decisions, placing drops in our pool of credibility. And although you may have inklings of how others perceive you, the truth is you never can and never will know it for certain. For if you know your reputation, it is no longer a reputation. You stoke the fire but you will never see the flame.

We can see this more tangibly in spaces like the world of women’s soccer. The executives who have been cancelled for their role in perpetuating the sexual harrassment and assault of players created this reputation for themselves. The question is whether their legacy will be for that role, or for the empire they built that propelled women’s soccer into the spotlight and resulted in equal pay for women on the pitch?

Following the same idea, the new Netflix special, Blonde, has brought Marilyn Monroe’s life and fame into the spotlight. She was first known as an unattainable inspiration to creators, and soon became a sex symbol of her time. Depending on who you ask, she remains an icon to this day, a heartbreaking example of the reality of fame or simply a fabricated persona that only existed in a media sense. 

If you must be present for your reputation, and must be absent for your legacy, and they do not have to paint the same picture, does that mean they are entirely separate? It can be entirely tempting to consider our legacy as a ghost of our reputation, serving as a continuation of who we were when we were around, but it simply may not be the case. Our reputation is a reflection of who we are, our legacy is a reflection of what we cultivate, and they do not have to be the same. 

But maybe maturity is caring less about your reputation and more about what legacy matters to us. During our time in high school, it is important to recognize our limits in controlling our legacy. Regardless of the intense feelings we experience in the moment, chances are we aren’t going to be remembered by the grades we received. Our legacy may be something we never know, but at least we get the opportunity to build relationships and leave behind an impact that reflects the perception we have of ourselves.

Of the generations before us, we remember them as those that left as a planet in desperate need of repair without giving us so much as a hammer. Is that what we would like to be remembered for, too? We each have the ability to control our generational legacy and, even though we can’t change it ourselves, voting for the good of our legacy gives us the capacity to try.