As a kid, when asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” the most appropriate answer always seemed to be “Lawyer.” I liked to talk, and I especially liked to argue with my parents, but not with violent screaming but instead with logic. Both of my parents immigrated to the US from Ethiopia in their adult lives, my father when he was 18 and my mother in her mid to late twenties. Just a few years after arriving in the US my mom had her first child, my brother Jonathan, and then a year and three months later she had me. Changing diapers and driving us to school didn’t leave much time for her to become accustomed to fast paced “American culture,” and so she became a stay at home mom. Meanwhile my father had been living on his own for a while; he had enough American friends, a steady well paying job and was already comfortably assimilated on his own. Although I don’t think the dynamic friction of cultures that was in my home is uncommon, it definitely wasn’t easy living with. I think growing up in America comes with a lot of entitlement. Entitlement to education, to healthcare, to summer vacation, to sleeping past twelve in the afternoon, but my entitlement was always being sharply contrasted with my mother’s Ethiopian background. Unlike my father who had grown up wealthy she had grown up in a poor town, and she was the youngest of seven brothers and sisters all living on top of each other in their one story home. Whenever I would complain about waking up and going to school she would remind me that she would wake up at sunrise to walk miles to school in the same clothes as yesterday. She would remind me that she never cared about what she looked like in class because she was there to learn. She emphasized that I should not focus on socializing or looking pretty, but rather getting my work done. I can honestly say that I owe my social conscientiousness to my mother.
As I grew older I became more aware of where there were discrepancies in entitlement. This is something I still think about today. I would often wonder why some people reached for things that others didn’t and I came to the conclusion, thanks to my mom, that it has everything to do with your starting point. When you start off with more you expect more and I believe that the discrepancies in entitlement also foster discrepancies in quality of life. Although in America the idea of the basic entitlement of freedom is so that we may all have a level starting point. Though pessimistically I think that instead of it being a level starting point it has become more of a minimum starting quota. Everyone (with some exceptions) living in the US meets the quota. The standard of public education, low income housing and living off food stamps. Clearly this isn’t the American dream, that would be the well sought after American middle class life that F. Scott Fitzgerald and Amy Tang write so elegantly about. I think I became hyper conscious of the people around me and their classes as I entered the ninth grade. My father had recently passed and there was a lot of pressure on my brother and I to be more responsible. My mom knew just as much about our family’s finances as we did, and we had to depend on each other for help and support. At first I felt as much helpless as I was useless, and it was a hard first year without my dad. Although by my sophomore year I began to realize that I needed to step up if I was going to change the quality of our lives. I spent a lot of time helping my mom. We put up our old apartment for sale and rented a new one, we learned to do our taxes together, my mom started her new steady job as an accountant while Jonathan and I got our acts together in school. I think it was my heightened conscientiousness that enabled me to push through in helping my mom day after day to raise our family’s standard of living.
Naturally as I entered high school the frequency at which I heard “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” increased. Now just answering “lawyer” was not enough, there would be a “wow, why?” and my inability to put it into words is what really made me think about what it was I really wanted to do. I applied for the Ward Fellowship to gain those exact senses. In our application process we were asked what John William Wards words meant to us when he said “One must act as if one can make a difference,” and I believe that there was a time where I knew what it was like to feel so insignificant to a problem so much larger than my actions, but still feel compelled to do something to move it forward and make a change. I don’t know if I would like to be a lawyer, or a senator, or even a writer, but I do know that a life in the field of public service, would be both highly rewarding and enjoyable. I would hope to work every day towards creating a higher standard of living similar to that of the “American Dream” so that everyone may have similar opportunities including the ones I have been so fortunate to have through both my family and my school.