When I was a student at Oberlin College in the early 2000s, my housemate would often come home after her environmental studies classes taught by David W. Orr, the Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics Emeritus, flushed with inspiration and eager to share everything she had just learned.

I marveled at how happy she seemed after lectures on, of all things, climate change. I never took one of Professor Orr’s classes but, in 2008, I interviewed him for an Ohio Magazine profile and, finally, it all made sense.

He moved about the world with an aura of hopeful energy, and when I asked him what kept him going even when it felt like the world was falling apart, he said something that has stuck in my mind ever since: “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up. Hope is always busy trying to change the odds.”

On the surface, the definition of hope seems obvious. But if you dig a little deeper, it gets complicated. When I asked Assistant Professor of Psychology Leah Dickens — a social psychologist who studies the functions of emotions in everyday life — what hope means to her, she framed it in relation to its close cousin, optimism.

“Hope is a positive emotion, but when you think about it a little bit further, you realize how much of it is cognitive. Hope is about feeling positive when you think about the future, but it also involves thoughts about how you get to that future state,” she said. And while optimism can be about things outside of our control, hope is focused on what is within our control. “Some might define hope as an optimistic belief that the goals we want will be attained.”

For this issue of the magazine, we sought out stories of hope in action and found them everywhere. From the emergency room doctor who co-founded a nonprofit to support health care workers, to the engineer designing systems that make housing in New York City more equitable, to the classics major who uses Greek tragedies to help thousands of people heal from trauma, Kenyon folks are creating reasons to be hopeful for the future.

After a long, dark year, many of us are rolling up our sleeves to receive a literal shot of hope: a COVID-19 vaccine. Now let’s get to work trying to change the odds.

Also In This Edition