Going down memory lane and thinking about my experience at Allegheny, I can’t help but reflect on some great memories, from being a Bonner Scholar to working with the Association of Caribbean Students and the African Students Association.
Yet, in the midst of it all, I think about that question that always lurked in my mind: What in the world am I going to do after I leave the place I have called home for four years?
Although it is a question that can quickly and easily get any senior’s heart pounding and muscles tensing, I have actually thought of a few ideas. I could move to a new place and work in an after-school program, or I could get a job in business to gain experience or I could start my own. I have plenty of choices.
But the question of what I could do after graduation actually has a second part – what should I do? And as I thought over each choice, none felt fulfilling enough.
I took into consideration many realities. As a first generation Latina about to have a college degree, I now have access to opportunities that many kids growing up like me do not. I think of my relatives whose ambitions were just as great as mine and their intelligence often greater, who did not have the same opportunities as I did and now struggle to live enjoyable lives in jobs that aren’t fulfilling.
I worked hard to get to and through college, faced struggles along the way, but I also knew that it was the hard work of many others that got me to this point. If just a few things were different—a different teacher, a different group of friends— I might not be an Allegheny student.
These challenges aren’t unique to my family. Too many kids growing up in diverse communities across the country lack the opportunity to imagine a successful future for themselves. For students in our lowest-income communities, just six percent will graduate from college by the time they’re 25. Knowing the disparities that exist, I also know that I can use my experiences to address them.
For me, a great place to start is in the classroom. I applied to Teach For America because I believe that we all have a role to help one another. I grew up with a bed to sleep on, food to eat each day and a loving family to support me in all that I did, but our system does not deal everyone those advantages.
When I think about what I can and should do with my past experiences, working with kids for a more equitable system is the answer that fits.
I did not decide to teach because I think I am going to be a hero. No hero can do the work of an amazing teacher. This work will be incredibly challenging, humbling and I will have to push myself harder than ever to give my students the education they deserve. I know I will need to work in close partnership with the parents, teachers and community members who have been working towards justice and equity long before I arrived.
But, I don’t want a job that lets me turn a blind eye to the injustice children and teens face every day.
I want a job that forces me to look injustice in the face and fight it head on. I want one that holds me accountable for the injustices that plague our communities – because, although I did not create them, I’d still bear responsibility if I chose not to address them.
As I become a Teach For America corps member after graduation, I’ll be joining a network and community of more than 47,000 people working relentlessly to make access to opportunity equitable. It’s a network of leaders that is greatly diverse in background and experience, which is also working across sectors to create change.
We are all united around the fundamental belief that a quality education is not a privilege – it is a right. We can fight to ensure all students get to exercise that right. As you think about what in the world you’re going to do after you leave here, I hope you’ll join us.