When the clock strikes midnight on January 1, an unparalleled decade comes to a close: one that saw everything from NASA’s first all-female spacewalk to the aftermath of natural disasters and the death of Osama bin Laden.
There were times of real change and hope. The White House was lit up in rainbow colors when the Supreme Court struck down same-sex marriage bans. The world watched in awe as a Thai soccer team and their coach were rescued one-by-one by a group of brave diving experts after being trapped for more than three weeks.
And there were moments so shocking we were left feeling helpless. Twenty-six people were killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and eight parishioners and their pastor were gunned down during Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Revolutionary moments made history in real time as anger and passion turned into movements – like the one made up of thousands of students who skipped classes worldwide to demand action from their leaders on the climate crisis.
Here’s a look back at some of the news stories that defined the past 10 years.
Institutions were shaken by scandal
The decade produced scandals that upended institutions from the Catholic Church to elite universities.
The controversies began less than a year into 2010, when the US State Department was pushed into damage control mode after WikiLeaks released thousands of classified documents on July 25. WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, is now facing charges related to the leak. Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst who helped the site get access to the classified documents, is currently jailed for refusing to testify before the grand jury investigating Assange.
A year later, another release – this time, a grand jury report made public in November 2011 – marked the beginning of a scandal that would ripple through Penn State University and lead to the termination of the school’s beloved football coach. The report contained testimony that former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually abused eight young boys, a number that would eventually increase to 10, over a period of at least 15 years. University officials purportedly failed to notify law enforcement after learning about some of these incidents. Sandusky was found guilty in 2012. Football coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier lost their jobs in the scandal.
Sexual abuse within the Catholic Church was similarly far-reaching. In 2017 and 2018, the church in the US spent more than $300 million – including $200 million in legal settlements – on costs related to clergy sexual abuse. The payouts were only part of the fallout of the massive worldwide scandal in which the church was accused of repeatedly covering up sexual abuse.
USA Gymnastics was likewise disgraced after Larry Nassar, a former USAG and Michigan State University doctor, was sentenced in 2018 to up to 175 years in prison after more than 150 women and girls testified he sexually abused them over two decades.
Earlier this year, about 50 people were accused in a college admissions scandal of either cheating on standardized tests or bribing college coaches and school officials to accept students as college athletes – even if they weren’t. Among those named by federal prosecutors were actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.
Activism took center stage
From #MeToo to Black Lives Matter, the 2010s were shaped by activism, beginning in 2011 with the Occupy Wall Street protest movement. The demonstrations against income inequality, corporate greed, and the influence of money in politics began in New York but spread to cities across the United States.
Anger over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in 2014 gave rise to the Black Lives Matter. What started as a social media hashtag quickly grew into an international movement protesting against police brutality and inequality.
Another social media hashtag went offline when survivors of sexual abuse shared their stories with #MeToo. Although the hashtag was created years earlier by activist Tarana Burke, it caught fire after people in Hollywood used it to take down Harvey Weinstein. Not only did it spark a conversation about consent and harassment, but the global movement also contributed to powerful men like producers, actors, anchors and executives and politicians being called to account on harassment accusations.
Communities were crushed by major disasters
The decade also brought catastrophic natural and environmental disasters to points across the world.
Haiti and Japan both were hit with the largest earthquakes ever to strike those countries. The 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and 9.1-magnitude quake – followed by a tsunami – the following year in Japan left hundreds of thousands of people dead and thousands more displaced.
The first year of the decade also saw an explosion on board the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 people and released 168 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
The strongest hurricane to strike the Bahamas made landfall in 2019. Hurricane Dorian slammed the island over Labor Day weekend and stalled there for more than 48 hours. It was one of five Category 5 hurricanes to form this decade. The others: Matthew, Irma, Maria, Michael and Lorenzo.
Hurricane Maria, which made landfall on the island nation of Dominica as a Category 5 hurricane and hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm in 2017, caused about $90 billion in damage and resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths.