Am I Wasting My Ivy League Education?

“I want to be a teacher, but I am worried that my parents would think that I’m wasting [my soon-to-be Ivy League] education,” a high school senior shares with me, outside of the school theater.

When I was a sophomore in college at the best university, a freshman friend insisted that she was going to be a teacher when she was finished college. “Some people ask me, ‘Why would I waste my education by becoming a teacher?'” she lamented. She paused as if looking for an answer, but I had no answer for her; I was only one year older than she was and did not know, with any conviction, what I intended to declare as my concentration. Consequently, I did not know what profession I wanted to enter. Heck, I did not even know what I wanted to eat that morning. Retrospectively, I do not think she wanted an answer; she wanted to vent, so I am thankful that I listened.

I continued to listen to the high school senior as she continued to recount her week shadowing middle school students at a local public school. As part of her senior project, she will compare her experiences following public school students with those following a student at our affluent private school. “I met a seventeen year old eighth grader…we’re the same age and I’m going to college, while he is…” her voice trails off, but the hurt is emphatically clear. “I paid for this students lunch one day,” her voice regains wobbling strength, though the screeching, resounding echo of disillusionment envelop her tone.

Her reality attacking her reality.

Her eyes look up towards me, searching for guidance, help…understanding of the traumatic experience she has encountered over the past week. I know the look all too well.

I remind her that if she wants to become a teacher, then she should be a teacher. Her life and its corresponding happiness lies in her hands, her decisions, and her choices; her happiness will not be constituted by her parents and their expectations. If she ultimately wants to affect change in less affluent communities, there are also other avenues to do so other than teaching, which is the stock response when thinking about how to help others. She is a writer, our newspaper’s co-editor in chief, so I suggest that she write and give a voice to the experiences of those who have traditionally been silenced, the victims of the systemic failures successes that maintain their status on the margins of society. I share with her other options because teaching is not for everyone. And for those that do decide to join the profession, they are definitely not wasting their education; they are doing something meaningful with it.

I wish I could have shared that with my freshman friend, but somehow she already knew that.

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