OPINION: Using your opportunities to the fullest

OPINION: Using your opportunities to the fullest

A couple of days ago, I went on my first college visit close to downtown Baltimore. After the visit, my brother and I decided to drive around the city a little and take in what it was really like to live in the area. As kids coming from the most striking suburbia you can think of (Good ole’ OP), what we saw was unbelievably different. Run down communities, crumbling infrastructure, and visible poverty. At that point, I had one of those moments that I only have when I visit India, the feeling of utter and complete gratitude for what I had and sadness for those who weren’t blessed with the same resources as me. It just seems so unfair. We go to bed in air conditioned houses, living in relative luxury and affluence. We eat whatever we please and go wherever we want, feeling entitled to do so. That’s just life for us. As we go off to college, it is important we understand we live in a country of opportunities, a country of morality, and a country of safety, People travel far and wide to live the American Dream, and we are so luckily born in it.

However, the weird thing is it seems as though from a young age we are told these things. We are told how lucky we are, we are told to count our blessings. Kids write every Thanksgiving on a little paper turkey made out of a tracing of their hands what they are thankful for. Every winter during the holidays, kids are told to thank their respective gods for the gifts they receive. Whenever they don’t finish the food on their plate, kids are told “don’t waste because the children in Africa aren’t this lucky.” If it’s so drilled into us, why do we lose this sense of gratitude somewhere along our journey? Why do we not think twice before wasting our opportunities?

In American we have the unbelievable opportunity to actually choose what we do with our lives. We have the unimaginable gift of chasing our dreams, of living the lives we want to live. As ingrained in our cultures as this principle is, it is quite the luxury. Kids in other nations have to fight for the opportunity to even be seen, let alone pursue something they care about. Let’s take India for example. A majority of the 440 million children in India are enrolled in school. Even if the considerable chunk which is forced to drop out to support their families is taken out, that’s still over the entire American population. All of these kids, regardless of their passions, study in the same curriculum based on memorization, core subjects only, and preparation for a practical career that will gain them a paying job. Children don’t participate in art, creative writing, or any expression past their younger years. If it can be used to make money, it’s taught. If not, it’s considered a useless skill.

As you can probably infer, a lot of these kids will attempt to attain higher education in their future. However, the only thing similar in America’s and their application process is the name “application process.” Seniors in India take a wide array of over 11 standardized tests which place them in specific ranks in their class. There are no deep personal essays, no glowing teacher recommendations, and certainly no interviews. Each child is seen as a collection of their test scores, and nothing more. Your dreams, personality, passions, wants, hates, loves, and just about everything else that makes you who you are is completely ignored. From this pool of lifeless numbers emerge clear winners, and unfortunately clear losers. The students at the top of their class go on to the best universities and the students below them are forced to bribe admissions at lower level colleges or flat out pay for their degree in what has become an extremely corrupt higher educational system. Lower level colleges are run like businesses, handing out meaningless degrees to desperate kids and their parents willing to pay large amounts of cash off the books for them. Even the “best universities,” are cash strapped, struggling to meet the demands of rapidly advancing world. Here in America it seems as though all, regardless of not being at the top of the pool, can still receive a quality education from an accredited 4 year institution and achieve that they want to in this world. In other places, not just India, that just isn’t true for everyone. One is a society of opportunity; the other is a society of survival. We should feel unbelievably lucky that we live in the former.

Education in these universities is also completely different. Kids in all colleges are forced to study something practical, not something that they love. The beauty of our world comes from fostering those who express themselves, those who write, draw, and pursue whatever their numerous, amazing passions. Here, if I wanted to study comparative international politics or history, I could very well do so. There, it’s something that can make enough money, or you are wasting all your family’s resources. Kids are forced into engineering and other STEM related careers regardless of what they really want to do.

We have the luxury of pursuing our dreams. Once we realize that, it just seems so unfair to waste it.

Now, in the end, this may all those go in one ear and out the other. We seem in today’s world to be desensitized to the problems in the world around us. It just doesn’t seem real. All these statistics about kids in Africa and India and China are just numbers that we hear and move on. All these pictures we see of starving kids are just photographs of a part of the world that we aren’t in. All these blogs about using your opportunities are just kids naively ranting about problems that they are privileged enough to rant about. The bubble of our suburban world is real, but it needs to burst.

The moral of the story however is simple. Use your opportunities to the best of your ability and never waste them. Let’s face it, in the lottery of life, you won. You get to live the life you want. You have the freedom to watch Netflix on a Saturday night and not have another care in the world. You have the luxury of going to Chipotle whenever you are close by and feeling like a burrito. You have the ability to decide your future, why in the world would you ever waste it?

I am not saying these things to make you guilty or to sound pretentious; I am saying these things to give you some context. It’s hard. But, in the end, enjoying your childhood is one thing, and wasting it is another. Use your opportunities to give back to the world, use them to make sure every child gets to live the life you did. There is nothing more essential to life than love, there is nothing more rewarding that making someone smile. We are all just simple human beings who have assembled themselves in societies and countries, all trying to figure out how to live together and be happy.

Our generation can fix problems of poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, and countless other societal ailments if we choose to do so. We have the money, we have the brain power, and we have the resources. Find something you are passionate about and do it. Each and every person in the world is uniquely special and are a catalyst for change. Help make the world a better place, and trust me, you will be unbelievably more fulfilled and happy because of it.

Immerse yourself in learning about, questioning, and discovering this world. Work hard, work smart, and push yourself to new heights using the resources you have. Find love in everywhere you choose to go, not hate. Always support, and never tear down. Find beauty in ordinary things and find beauty in others. That’s how you live life, and that is how you use your opportunities to the fullest.