We are spoon fed a dream growing up in America that is akin to a grandiose fairy tale. We are programmed to believe that the corporate ladder is there to be climbed – and if we sweat and bleed enough, one day we will reach the top of it victorious. It is ingrained in us that the path to reach the top of the highest mountain is to buckle down and study, avoid excessive idle time and make sure to pad our academic resumes with lots and lots of meaningful extracurricular activities. This surely would prove to colleges and universities that we were not only smart but well-rounded.
Like most people my age, when I was growing up during the 1980s, I wanted to be important. Despite being bright, I didn’t do very well in high school. I was instructed by a variety of teachers who barely graduated from a state school (where they majored in gymnastics and minored in beer pong). My high school formative years were forged at a school that focused on football and athletics more than mathematics and literature; these same boobs were given the challenge of teaching us subjects like calculus and trigonometry…when all they were truly qualified to teach was field hockey and dodge ball.
Subsequently, I skated through my classes and somehow ended up a high school graduate. Too afraid to fail the SAT exam I opted for an open enrollment college to study film and theatre. My family was supportive as they always were with my creative pursuits. I did exceptionally well in all my courses in college and graduated with top honors and the hope that my creative pursuits were more than just a pipe dream.
I watched many of my high school colleagues chase the classic American dream path by pursuing law and medical degrees and I am honestly proud of their accomplishments and achievements. I myself considered college an intellectual playground that expanded my consciousness and awareness; it helped foster an appreciation for my fellow human beings regardless of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation. I used my college education to strengthen my communication and presentation skills; I became a more eloquent and persuasive person in both professional and personal circumstances. Yet I wonder now, after looking back at all the fun I had, if it was fiscally really worth it.
How much does the American dream cost us? — whether we take the straight path of a law or medical career, or something more ambitious like film and acting work? Regardless of your chosen profession, let’s face it – in today’s economy jobs are scarce and the jobs that are available often pay nearly half of what they paid ten years ago. Additionally, there are far more candidates to compete with now than there once were. On top of all these factors is the fact that many college students take out an absurd amount of student loans from the government and private lenders. This student loan debt hangs over the heads of many of our currently working citizens like grim death. Not only do we need to scrape and survive, in a sort of bizarre ‘Lord of the flies’-like professional environment, we also have to worry about paying off debts well beyond our current means.
The best thing we can do is wake up from this American dream and splash some ice cold water onto our faces. We need to realize that much of what we were promised is not real. We make our own destiny in this country — that is one of the things I love about it. However, I have come to loathe the promise we were given that if you work hard, study hard and don’t play too hard, then all your dreams will come true. It’s simply not the truth in our country today. In convincing us that this was the formula to guaranteed success, they informed us all we needed to do was just sign our names on the student loan application and we’ll be set for life. We need to amend the ‘hard work equals success’ motto for the generations to come; the thing we need to teach our children is that they should give it their all, but that nothing is promised to them.
The American dream was a nice idea, but we must make our own fate to create a better American reality. College is not for everyone; I say this not to imply that some people are book smart while others just street smart. I say this because, regardless of your academic prowess, you can sometimes learn more by graduating high school and committing to a full time entry-level job, than all the expensive college coursework in the world can teach you. You also can save money rather than collect debt by immediately entering into the work force. If you love film and acting then you can audition for student films and go to casting calls. You can also learn a variety of trades for free; some will even pay for you for studying them. Jobs may be scarce, in fact in some parts of the country they are a very rare and competitive commodity. But with hard work and determination it’s less of a risk presenting yourself as a candidate to a limited pool of jobs than ending up in the same job market but also hopelessly in debt.
Unless you have some sort of amazing free ride scholarship to a four-year college, most college pursuits are fun and enriching but are they truly worth a lifetime of debt? What about debt forgiveness then? Would this be the appropriate action for our government to take? It would indeed be the fairest thing to do for former students from all walks of life who are now struggling to re-pay massive education debt and still feed their families and keep a roof over their heads.
It is essential that we systematically forgive student loan debt. The paradigm must shift and we must awaken from this misty-eyed slumber. Student loan debt forgiveness would give Americans a great sigh of relief and a fresh perspective on life — it might even renew trust in the government for some.
I live with zero regrets. Life is the best teacher you can ever ask for. In the end we are all responsible for replacing the concept of the ‘The American Dream’.