A Call to Pay it Forward
Published: Thursday, May 17, 2012
Updated: Thursday, May 17, 2012 20:05
A student cannot graduate from Georgetown without being heavily indebted. As The New York Times reported last week, Americans hold $1 trillion in outstanding student loans. A chunk of that is held by Georgetown’s Class of 2012. Although our financial debt levels vary, we each have a deeper moral debt, that of repaying and expanding the opportunity we were given to receive a world-class education.
Simply put, we were given an opportunity that relatively few people get. While we worked hard to achieve our potential, we did not reach this moment solely on our own accord.
For some, opportunities came from being born to parents with the means and motivation to invest heavily in their children and set high expectations for academic achievement. They provided the opportunities that only relative affluence can bring: private or elite suburban public education, tutors, SAT preparation materials and opportunities to excel at sports or other hobbies. Today’s graduation is the culmination of that concerted cultivation. For others, it was access to a superior, empowering education system that provided a leg up.
One of the most important moments of my life, the event that predestined today’s graduation for me, occurred just over eight years ago. A generous and successful alumnus of a college preparatory high school to which I had applied decided to offer a scholarship to a prospective student who could otherwise not have afforded the tuition. I was that fortunate recipient. That opportunity took the son of parents who had not graduated from college out of an average public school and put me in one of the nation’s best high schools.
My high school experience opened my eyes to the real differences in educational opportunities offered to students depending on where they are enrolled. Some schools empower students, launching them to success at universities like Georgetown. At other high schools, it’s exceptional just to graduate.
While the circumstances we were born into and the opportunities we were given did not guarantee that we would arrive at this moment, they helped us to realize our potential and overcome the stumbling blocks we encountered. That cannot be said for millions in the United States and around the world. Countless students will enter school this fall with the deck stacked hopelessly against them in their pursuit of a quality education. They will attend underfunded schools, lacking even the basic textbooks most of us always took for granted. These students will have neither the advantages of extensive investment in the home nor the opportunities provided by a strong school system.
As we leave Georgetown, we must be especially cognizant of educational inequities in our society, realizing that the success we celebrate today is directly tied to the opportunities we were given. Each of us must pay our debt and pay to make opportunities for others – both tasks are equally important. The standard we must use to measure our future success is whether we are not only improving our lot in life, but also helping those previously left behind by society. Each one of us, working in whatever profession or role we desire, can make a positive impact.
We owe it to ourselves to live our dreams. But we also owe it to those who have helped us make today a reality and to those who do not receive the same opportunities to live as Georgetown has taught us: as women and men for others.
Brian Shaud is a senior in the College and a former member The Hoya's editorial board.