For some of us, orientation was three years ago, for others it was just three weeks ago, but no matter how foggy those three days of overwhelming pep from your OL are, one tidbit was certainly drilled into your head: you are blessed and smart enough to be receiving an education only 6.7 percent of the world has—now go use it for good. The responsibility that comes with being a part of such a staggering statistic is something of which we are constantly reminded at Boston College, as it is, variously, the highlight of speeches at award ceremonies and the focus of casual posts from the history department’s Facebook page. It is subtly hinted at daily when we are told to go set the world aflame or to remember the school’s Jesuit values. While these are important instructions, when something is mentioned consistently, it unfortunately becomes white noise rather than a thought-provoking challenge. So, let us revisit the task we have been given, look at it in a new light, and bring it back to the forefront of our minds. After all, isn’t it a challenge worth such attention?
Let’s first put our education in perspective of our own country and families. In the U.S. alone, 50 percent of college students are first generation. I myself am among that number. In fact, I recently discovered that my grandfather—who lived to see the new millennium—spent his entire life illiterate. Take a moment to think about the fact that, while I sat in calculus learning how to derive a function or in philosophy contemplating what a good life is, my grandfather could not read a street sign. Although this is not the case for all students, it is not uncommon that students at BC are receiving an education of which even their recent forebearers could only dream. In fact, behind each of us are ancestors with a common desire to make a better life for their posterity. No matter what your history, there has been great sacrifice for you to receive a diploma. Now here we are, reaching the peak of their dreams—we are on track to graduate from a top-ranked university with a college degree that will lead to successful jobs and lives. This is not only a great achievement for first generation college students, but to each student and family who will sit in Alumni Stadium on a hot day in early May.
Of course, that scroll stands for a great achievement on the individual’s part as well. At BC, it means you have not only mastered a subject or two, but also completed requirements that have challenged you and helped mold you into a well-rounded individual. That’s the beauty of a liberal arts education: the diploma means you know how to think, to participate in an intellectual conversation, to create and assert original ideas.
With such achievement comes great responsibility. Of course, the opportunities that have been afforded to you must be passed onto your own posterity. Yet since your family has reached the educational peak, BC tells us it’s time to pass the gift to others who have not been as fortunate.
What does that mean exactly? Is BC going to condemn CSOM students who take offers at Deloitte or political science majors who going to law school? Of course not—if they did, BC would not have one of the largest university endowments. What about pre-med students and those looking to work for nonprofits? They are going to be using their hard-earned education for the benefit of others in everyday life. Isn’t that what BC is asking for? Well, not exactly. BC challenges us to think critically about our talents and skills that have been cultivated on the Heights, and use them to help fight for justice and equality. This means going beyond what is required to bring home the bacon—you must assess how on an individual level you can make a difference. For each person, this path will be different. For some, it could be spending a year to help companies create sound economic decisions. For others, it could be doing pro-bono surgeries for those in need. Maybe your skills are not academic, but you can relate well with teens and could become involved with local youth. Our liberal arts education has taught us how to think, to recognize our abilities, to harness our potential. We have been offered the position to help others receive the opportunities given to us by our families’ sacrifices. In essence, the responsibility of your education is to do what your past generations have done. You are challenged to sacrifice and work hard to create a better life for others. Just think, if your parents and grandparents hadn’t done it for you, where would you be?
So, are you ready to go set the world aflame?
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.
Featured Image by Kevin Hou / Heights Senior Staff