FUNT: You May Say I'm a Dreamer
Published: Friday, January 24, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 24, 2014 02:01
When I was a high school senior applying to Georgetown, I spoke with an alumnus who explained that, decades ago, seemingly half of the students on campus aspired to be president of the United States. Nearly four years later, I can’t identify a single student on one of the most politically passionate campuses in the country who would openly admit to that ambition.
From my perspective, that doesn’t stem from maturation or disenchantment. Rather, I believe this supposed pragmatism is the result of a faux modesty that is socially imposed on ambitious members of our community. It stifles sincerity and, as is often the case with linguistic phenomena, yields significant consequences.
When lofty dreams are ridiculed for being juvenile, people tend to lower their sights.
There’s no doubt that the Hilltop is an ultra-competitive environment. But, sometimes competition drives people to race to the top; other times it pressures them to stay close to the pack. I don’t accept that the dreariness of some Capitol Hill internships or the allure of Wall Street paychecks leads students to awaken from the naivete of their dreams and settle for something less. It appears instead to result from a broader cultural phenomenon — one anathema that stifles the idealistic spirit that so many teenagers yearn for when they are first drawn to this campus.
Whether you’re speaking of politicians pursuing elected office or entrepreneurs, entertainers, artists, inventors or anyone seeking to make an impact on a broad scale and break from the norm, ambitious, professional aspiration requires a tremendous leap of faith. It demands a sense of personal potential and a commitment to self-improvement, which, for college students especially, should be celebrated, not scolded. Yet our society has developed a tendency to loath its dreamers, mistaking humble aspirations for pretentiousness and egotism. Sadly, that’s evident well beyond the gates of Georgetown.
Sports icons were once revered for embodying the American dream, and few athletes fit that profile better than Babe Ruth. As legend has it, the Yankee outfielder “called his shot” by pointing to the center-field bleachers while at bat during the 1932 World Series at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, only to deliver on his promise with a towering home run to that spot on the next pitch. To so many adoring fans, Ruth wasn’t arrogant; he was a hero.
Nowadays, bold signs of confidence can be the downfall of public figures. Take hip-hop artist Kanye West, whose outspoken ambition and proclamations of self-potential are widely demonized. In an interview during October of last year, West said, “If everything I did failed — which it doesn’t, it actually succeeds — but if everything I did failed, just the fact that I’m willing to fail is an inspiration. Just the fact that I’m willing to lose is an inspiration to try.”
The road toward realizing our dreams is extended and uncertain, and at the fork in the road that we find ourselves approaching in our senior year, it can be tempting to choose the safer side. I’m not oblivious to the pressures of student debt or the specialized pursuits of business students, but something is amiss at Georgetown University when the plurality of our graduates enter consulting or investment banking. During an interview in October, I asked Charles Deacon, Georgetown’s dean of admissions for four decades, how many applicants list consulting among their career ambitions in admissions essays. As you might predict, his answer was zero.
As editor-in-chief of The Hoya, I made a point of asking groups of new staffers, “Who here is gunning for my job one day?” They inevitably would recoil and glance around the room; nobody ever responded affirmatively. I’ve heard similar stories from other student groups, where the idea of being humble and paying your dues is often taken too far: People are reluctant to appear pretentious, and their remedy is often to act disingenuously pedestrian. I certainly value humility in others and try to practice it myself, but there is a profound difference between being conceited or confident, being oblivious or optimistic.
I’m not calling for the Hilltop to become Neverland, nor am I suggesting that what might be considered modest aspirations are inferior or inadequate. I just hope that our school can embrace ambition and hunger for the means to achieve it — a departure from what seems like a society of cynicism and a culture of conformity.
We still have an incredible way to go before we are able to realize our dreams. But for those of us unafraid to call our shot right now, boos from the crowd shouldn’t deter us from swinging for the fences.
Danny Funt is a senior in the College. CALLING MY SHOT appears every other Friday.