For many, 2016 was a billowing dumpster fire doused repeatedly with gasoline. We lost David Bowie and Prince and Gwen Ifill and Carrie Fisher, among so many other artists, leaders, thinkers and dreamers. We watched America tear itself apart from the inside during one of the most contentious elections in our history, all while witnessing far greater destruction in Syria.
We didn’t solve racism or sexism or gun violence or police brutality. And world peace is still a faraway concept. The successes don’t make up for the losses, but it’s worth remembering there was some good in a year stymied by the bad and the ugly.
Africa was declared free of Ebola
Liberia is finally clear of the deadly virus, marking its end in West Africa. And just last week, an experimental Ebola vaccine was proven highly effective – a milestone that could prevent the spread of another outbreak.
Giant pandas, manatees and (most) humpback whales are no longer endangered
Pandas have been downgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable,” manatees have been reclassified as “threatened” and nine of the 14 humpback whale populations have increased since they were classified as “endangered” in 1970.
The viral Ice Bucket Challenge led to a breakthrough in ALS research
You did it. All the water you dumped on your friends and donations you made to ALS research in 2014 paid off. Roughly $115 million was raised, leading to the discovery of an ALS-related gene.
A few firsts for the Library of Congress
The largest library in the world has been overseen by 13 white males during its two centuries in existence. Earlier this year, President Obama appointed Carla Hayden as Librarian of Congress James Billington’s successor. Hayden, the library’s first African American and female librarian, was behind the decision to keep West Baltimore’s library open in the midst of protests surrounding the death of Freddie Gray in 2015.
A homeless man foiled a bomb attack in New Jersey
When Lee Tyrone Parker, a 50-year-old homeless man, and his friend Ivan White, stumbled upon a backpack in Elizabeth, N.J., they unknowingly helped foil a bombing. After emptying the backpack’s contents and noticing what turned out to be five pipe bombs, Parker and White took the items to the police station, where they were questioned by the FBI. The bombs had been assembled by Ahmad Khan Rahami, the suspect in the New York and New Jersey bombings that injured 30 people.
The Cubs won a World Series
It didn’t matter if you were never a Cubs fan. It was was a victory America needed to see, and after 108 years, it came not a moment too soon.
Harriet Tubman will become the new face of the $20 bill
Abolitionist Harriet Tubman will become the first woman in over a century and the first African American in history to get front-bill placement on a paper note. She’ll replace Andrew Jackson, nearly two centuries after he devastated the Cherokee nation. Jackson will move to the back of the bill, featured alongside an image of the White House. It’s possible that we’ll have to wait 10 years to see the change, but there’s no set release date.
‘Hamilton’ continued to dominate
Sure, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hopera technically debuted in 2015, but its accolades, soundtrack and near-universal obsession spilled into 2016. We’ll take what we can get.
SeaWorld will stop breeding captive killer whales
After outrage and criticism, SeaWorld made an agreement with the Humane Society of the United States to end its orca breeding program.
In India, more than 800,000 volunteers planted 50 million trees in one day
The world-record-breaking effort was part of an agreement India made at the Paris Climate Agreement and signed on Earth Day to combat climate change.
After Brock Turner case, Jane Doe prompts a change in law
Former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner was convicted this year of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, identified as Jane Doe. After he was released from jail after just three months, critics were outraged.
But Doe herself issued a powerful response. She penned a public letter to Turner that spurred California legislators to expand the definition of rape and increase the minimum sentence for sexual assault.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft reached Jupiter
Five years and 1.8 billion miles later, Juno reached the largest planet in our solar system. It’s already sent back flyby images of Jupiter’s north pole that have given us never-before-seen views.
We had a year to celebrate Vin Scully