When I think about my time here at Bates, I think about a whirlwind of incredible experiences: working in the admissions office as an Admission Senior Fellow, writing my senior thesis, volunteering in the Lewiston school system, and studying abroad in Spain, Copenhagen, and Malawi. But I also think about the gnawing question that always lurked: What in the world am I going to do after I leave here?
Although the question is the quickest way to get any senior’s heart pounding and palms sweating, I actually have several ways I could answer it. I could look for a job at a non-profit, I could stop toying with the idea and just apply to graduate school, and I could go to Europe or Asia and teach English. I have choices.
But the question of what I could do after graduation actually has a second part – what should I do? And as I turned each choice over in my head, none of them felt quite right.
The truth is, as a first-generation Asian American earning a college degree, I now have access to opportunities that many kids growing up like me don’t. I think of my friends and classmates whose ambitions were just as great as mine and whose intelligence was often greater, but who are back home in California raising children and working two part-time jobs rather than worrying about exams or picking classes. I worked hard to get to and through college and faced struggles along the way, but I also know 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—and I might not be a Bates student.
But I also know this isn’t just true for families like mine growing up in California. Too many kids growing up in diverse communities across the country lack the opportunity to imagine a future for themselves. Among students growing up in our lowest-income communities, just 6 percent will graduate from college by the time they’re 25. Knowing this, I want to use my experiences to change it.
I didn’t decide to teach because I think I’m going to be a hero. This work will be incredibly challenging and humbling, and I will have to push myself harder than I ever have to give my students the education they deserve. 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 kids face every day. I want one that forces me to look injustice in the face and fight it with all my heart. 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 of more than 47,000 people working relentlessly to make access to opportunity equitable. It’s a network of leaders vastly diverse in background and experience, working across sectors to create change. But 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 enjoy 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.