“What would you say to someone who thinks education doesn’t matter, or that college is a waste of time and money?”
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Tell me about where you’re sitting, I say. This request is always followed by bafflement, but I’ve never been a woman who shrinks away from skepticism. Eventually, the other person indulges me. I’m on a chair, they say, unimpressed. It’s hard and not very comfortable. The silence drags for a moment before I speak again. Okay. Do you mind if I tell you about where I’m sitting? I’m on a chair, too. It’s made of plastic, but the legs are metal, so someone must’ve assembled it with screwdrivers and patience. I’m lucky enough that the chair is in a heated room, in a building that an entire crew spent years constructing. It was probably an enormous labor, hauling in supplies and operating equipment, but they were able to build everything because they had access to the tools they needed, tools that were manufactured by still other teams of people.
Hundreds of people had to come together to harvest raw materials, transport them, alter them into usable parts, and then finance the project that would someday give me access to this hard, uncomfortable chair. And that’s the thing about perspective. Absolutely nothing changes, yet everything changes all at once. The world is a different place when you look at it through a different lens, and college gives you an opportunity to do that. Science and politics and mathematics and art converge to make life what it is. And maybe those things don’t matter to you, but they certainly matter to me.
Bangalore, India. My grandfather, 14, had recently dropped out of the 10th grade and enlisted in the Indian navy. Money was tight and it was his only option. Ten years later he married my grandmother and they had four children. My mom became the first in our family to receive her Ph.D. Moving from the hot, humid Indian climate to the cold, dry Nebraskan winter, she came to America and accomplished more than what she came here for. The jump made within one generation makes me proud to call her my mom.
The value and hard work she put into pursuing a higher education is my biggest source of inspiration. It is the sole reason I dare to dream so big. Education is what abled my mom to come to America, to further her education, and to break out of her low economic status. I know that I would not be here, writing this essay, having the luxury of applying to college, if it wasn’t for the value she placed in education. In the grand scheme of things, one story may not seem groundbreaking. Yet if my story is just one of how education has changed millions of lives, there’s no denying its value. To anyone who thinks that education doesn’t matter, I would say that you are extremely wrong. Education has the ability to change the course of a person’s life and the generations that follow. Education is power.”
Amanda was just four years old when she had her first grand mal seizure. She was a bright, beautiful, healthy girl and no one suspected the life sentence she had just been imprisoned with. She was admitted to the hospital, her seizures were controlled, tests were performed, and she was sent home with a prescription to prevent additional seizures. That prescription didn’t work and the neurologists increased the dosage. Still more seizures riddled her body. Her doctors tried different medications and stronger doses. With each seizure and each increased dosage, her brain, battered and bruised, began to deteriorate. She began to lose information that was previously learned; her ABC’s, how to count, perception of time. Her brain was like a dry erase board. You could fill it up with as much knowledge as you could, and each new seizure would just wipe it clean.
I was taught early that education is a gift; a gift that not everyone receives. I challenge anyone who says education does not matter to spend some time with someone like my sister, Amanda, that doesn’t have the option of an education. I don’t take my gift for granted. As I prepare to go to college, I am not alone. Each class I take, every credit I earn will be for myself, for Amanda, and for everyone that has been robbed of the gift of learning.
Lights flickering in the dreary night, crickets chirping through the weary moonlight, clock ticking out of sight – the suspense was quiet. “Look what I won!” she blurted, rippling the silence. I felt touched that out of our nineteen family members, Kayleen, my six-year-old cousin, chose me to show her spelling bee award to. Her mother stated before our call that she “was getting great grades like you.”
At the age of seventeen, to see her motivated by me was the proudest moment of my life. It meant that my hard work prompted my cousin to dream big and do the same, that my endless studies impacted my family’s possibilities, and that my dreams helped them rise. Kayleen’s simple gesture has made me realize a greater drive, that I’m impacting my whole extended family, that I’m pushing the boundary of possibilities, and I’m paving way for hundreds of generations after me.
Knowing that story, I’d say you’re wrong! And you’ve never been so wrong in your entire life. Education matters. It helps push boundaries, it allows families to rise from hardships, and it promotes big dreams. Although reading and studying can seem quite daunting, I can assure you that your studies help motivate the people around you as it did for my six-year-old cousin. And in return, you rise with a greater purpose, a drive, which inevitably helps bring you one step closer to your dream.
Fidel Castro died on November 25th, and the world split into two. One side celebrated his death. The other mourned it. I watched through the screen of my dinky little television as Cuban-Americans marched joyously in Florida.
I’m Cuban-American. My father lived in Cuba under Fidel’s reign. After his rise, everything began to change. One day my father walked into his fifth-grade classroom and sat at his desk. It was just another day. It was just another day until his teacher told her students to close their eyes and pray to God for ice cream. Several minutes later they were told to open their eyes: there was no ice cream. Then she told them to ask Fidel Castro for ice cream. When they opened their eyes, a sundae lay before them. That night my father’s parents told him that upon his 12th birthday he’d be sent to Red China to be brainwashed.
My father and his younger sister fled to Florida and entered foster care, without knowing English. My grandparents were forced to stay behind in Cuba. Before they left, my grandparents made my father promise to pursue education. My abuelo said it was the key to the world.
Education matters. It is a weapon, which is the reason Fidel tried to turn it on my father and the thousands of other children taught falsities in school. Education truly is a key.
You are free. You have a choice, unlike so many in this world.
Take it. Choose knowledge. Choose strength.
Rifles. Machine guns. C4. Bombs. Education.
Nelson Mandela said it first: “Education is the most powerful weapon.”
Seize the guns, defuse the bombs; what are we left with? A boiling hatred and for what reason, other than ignorance and intolerance? Say our weapons were defunded, dismantled into chunks of invaluable metal. We look into the eye of our enemy and say, “I loath[e] your religion.” We announce, “I abhor your culture.” We claim, “Your environment is wrong.” We solve these problems by killing off the unattractive, going to war with those who we misunderstand. The idea behind using education as a weapon is to use it with a better aim than any sniper, to pinpoint what the actual issue is behind all the bloodshed. It’s being uneducated. It is being scared to be diverse. It is being uncultured. It is not knowing how to react to a different standard.
Being educated isn’t about learning how to get the derivative of a matrix or about how many articles you can analyze using rhetorical strategies or about knowing the vector for a traveling marble.
Being educated is about having tolerance for ideas or concepts you do not understand, considering you didn’t know it all before you started and you still don’t now.
Being educated is about understanding what you have yet to uncover, is about being okay with what remains unknown.
Hatred is a reason to pull the trigger, education is the reason to put the gun down.
Falls Church, VA
Strip me down. Take away everything I have. Take away my house, my clothes, my money. What do I still have? Physically, nothing. However I still have one true possession- my mind. My mind is mine. It cannot be taken away from me. It is always hungry for new knowledge, because the more it knows the more it is; the more I am. Education is food for the brain; the brain thrives on it, it relishes in it. Money cannot buy happiness, but it can buy education, which in my opinion is the closest thing to happiness. Many people say ignorance is bliss, but to me ignorance is a parasite; ignorance is fog on the lenses of my glasses inhibiting me from taking in the beauty all around me. Education is the cloth I use to wipe away the fog so I can see clearly. With my foggy glasses, I see a plant. With my newly cleaned glasses, I see a complex photosynthetic organism, green because of its chlorophyll, green because it makes its food out of all the colors of the light spectrum save green, reflecting it to me. My retina absorbs the green light like a sponge; I perceive it, I understand it. My mind works like a machine, processing, making connections and constantly in awe of the intricate world around me. Without the knowledge I’ve attained through the education process I would be blind to these complexities. I’d be wearing foggy glasses all the time.
“Sir, would you mind stepping inside my time machine, please?” I said, gesturing to the incongruous mass of corrugated metal to my right. “Don’t give me that look: I didn’t spend six years at MIT for nothing.”“MIT?” the man said, laughing as he accompanied me inside. “Is that another street name for PCP–”In a kaleidoscopic swirl of light and sound, we sped off toward our destination: Woolsthorpe, England in 1684. There we watched the golden child of the Enlightenment, Sir Isaac Newton, witness the fall of the apple that inspired his gravitational theory. I went on to explain its basic principles, only to be rudely interrupted by my slightly nauseous friend.“Wait a minute! Are you trying to tell me that this guy needed a degree from Cambridge just so he could play hooky in the countryside and contemplate physics? What a waste!”“You’re forgetting the most important detail: Contemplation bears the fruit that education ripens. Without knowledge, thought lacks focus. After all, discoveries like these are years in the making–not to mention quite a few headaches.”As my friend nursed a headache of his own, I opened the doors.“Well, do you finally understand the value of education?”“No–”“–oh well,” I said, pushing him out, “everybody learns at their own pace. If you need help building your time machine, I’d suggest the University of Cambridge. Or maybe just frolic in the countryside: It worked for Newton, so maybe it’ll work for you!”
A cry brings us into this world and a silent breath facilitates our passage into the void. It is what we do during our time on this earth that distinguishes us for who we are. From crying infants to mischievous children to rebellious teenagers to mature adults to wise elders, we grow day after day, taking in the world and attempting to recognize it for what it is. Lifelong education is the one goal that keeps us on the track of humanity and civility, guiding us towards the shining light of wisdom. This beacon of education is what helps us maintain our direction through life’s various ups and downs. While ignorance may be bliss, awareness is our strength and our drive that propels us towards greater understanding. The fundamental question that we human beings should ask is: “What is our purpose here on earth?” If we can answer it, then education may yet be meaningless. If not, then wave the flag of knowledge and gather the whole of humanity under its shade. Education is what allows us to live as cognizant human beings, making us ones who can give back to the world that bore us. Without knowledge, there is no understanding. Without understanding, there is no goal. Without a goal, life is meaningless. Education is what allows us to understand who we are and gives us the ability to find out why. With that knowledge, we can truly change the world.
The sun shines in the window of a modest house located near Billings, Montana and sparkles off a new wedding ring. The rich, pungent smell of banana pancakes and crispy bacon floods every room as a young woman, dressed in a soft, ratty nightshirt pours batter onto the griddle. A baby, dressed in nothing but a diaper and fuzzy blue socks romps on the rug with a gentle golden retriever.
In a trendy penthouse, some 2,000 miles away in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a sharply dressed woman attempts to dress the squirming two-year-old at her feet. The room smells like a mix of perfume, freshly brewed coffee, and baby powder. The young woman passes the little girl off to her husband with a quick kiss to both and a promise of a picnic in Central Park at noon.
These two women lead totally different lives, but a college education allows you to choose whatever life you want. Even if you want nothing more than to be a stay-at-home parent, an education will help you be a better one, and if life throws you a curveball, you will be ready.
Many people think of college merely as an academic education, but I think college teaches more than Psychology and Latin- it helps you to gain confidence and expand your opportunities, to find your direction. I would tell anyone who thinks education does not matter, that college is the key to opening the world of possibilities spread out before you.
A plain bar of iron is worth $5. That same iron, if fashioned into horseshoes, is worth $10.50. If made into needles, the iron is worth $3,285. If turned into balance springs for watches, it is worth over $250,000. People are the same as iron. We begin as raw material, but if we shape and fashion ourselves, our value can increase to immeasurable heights. We can’t do it on our own, however. Education is what provides us with the tools to enhance our significance in this world. As we progress along our school careers, our shapes are chiseled and smoothed. Education helps us clarify who we are and what we are capable of doing in life. As we advance through high school our forms remain abstract and vague. A college education is what really unlocks doors into the working world that allow us to become citizens that actually make a difference. As we work and give back in society our true worth is realized. Education doesn’t end with college. College is a foundation that teaches us how to continue learning throughout our lives. As we live and persist in using the tools our schooling gave us, our raw material will be shaped into works of art that continually grow in value and beauty.
1997. 19 years old.
“I just need to go. I gotta get back to the mountains.”
“What about finishing school?” Dad asked as he looked thoughtfully at the tomatoes ripening on the vine in the late afternoon sunlight.“School is for those people who can’t tough it out and work their way through. Look at Grandpa. No school. Died as VP of Local 705 in Chicago. I’ll be like him; drive a Coca-Cola truck or haul bricks to the mason or…I don’t know. I’ll do anything. I just can’t handle being cooped up in that damned school. “My old man just sighed and said, “Times were different then, son.” “Times didn’t change, Dad, your generation’s perception of what’s classified as ’qualified’ did.” He just shook his head slowly. I turned and left.
2009. 31 years old.
“I just need to go.”
“What are you going to do for work?”
I sighed, “Dad, I’ve been working like a blind mule that knows nothing more than the routine for twelve years and I’m in no better position now than when I embarked on this whole journey. I’m not too concerned about finding work whilst being a full-time student.” Dad sipped his beer, gave me a wry smile and said, “Well, I’ll be. Times have changed, eh son?” I thought this over for a moment or two and replied, “I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps they have. I do know this for certain: my perception of what’s important to me definitely has.”
Life is serendipitous; while considering this question, I happened to come across a bumper sticker quoting Derek Bok, the former Harvard president, stating:
“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!“
Though obviously witty and eye-catching, the words struck a chord in me because they made me think about what life, without education, would be like. Sure, education, in particular college education, is important, but with the economy in decline, is it worth it? Although a college degree unlocks many doors, there are certainly success stories of college dropouts who have still “struck gold.” Are the rising costs of college justified? Are four years in an ivory tower worthwhile? In my opinion, the answer is “yes.” Beyond the increased likelihood of career success, college helps us to better understand the world. College campuses are mini-communities where we, as young adults, can initially experience our independence. What happens outside of college classrooms (i.e., club participation, dorm living, etc.) is just as much a part of the “education” as what occurs in the classroom. The academics equip us with information necessary for achievement and scholarship, but the social learning provides the foundation for civic mindedness and community involvement. So, to those who say that education is a waste of time, money and effort, I respectfully disagree. For the few who are lucky enough to succeed without going to college, I offer my congratulations. For the rest of us, Ignorance is not bliss, and college is the surest way to avoid it.
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