Deserving a place in an individualistic society

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Kevin Carey, director of the education-policy program at the New America Foundation, writes in Chronicle of Higher Education the speech he wished the dean of admissions had given to the incoming class at Stanford:

Excerpts:

 I know this is an important day for all of you. You have spent years of your lives trying to get here. Driving into Stanford this morning must have seemed like living a long-imagined dream. And yet, I know many of you are nagged by something. …”Do I really deserve to be here?… Not yet.

[He said that they won’t deserve until they have served others, and they have largely thus far served themselves…]

“You had a lot of help, of course….Most of you came here from privileged places. It was hard to miss all of those late-model luxury cars lined up in front of the dorms this morning, disgorging your stuff. You’ve inherited financial and social capital that the average person can scarcely imagine….”

“Don’t mistake my talk of service for an appeal to your selfless nature. That need you feel to deserve what you haven’t earned? That is a craving that can’t be filled. That kind of desire will consume you in the end. You can choose otherwise.

So I say to you, on this brilliant day, in this lovely place, that while you do not deserve to be here, you could, someday. …[And] [w]hen you deserve it, come back to us. Share your service with your peers and your children. Then you’ll be part of our family. Then you’ll truly belong.

It’s a fitting tribute at a deeper level to the thanks that any of us who succeed owe to so many who have made that possible: our family’s efforts to nurture us materially, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually; the role of official or unofficial mentors or coaches along the way; the role of unofficial heroes to inspire us; the role of governmental policy in shaping and offering us opportunity or in enforcing rules that allowed us to succeed; the role of others in our neighborhoods and communities who trusted us or helped us or sustained us.

America is such an individualist-worshiping culture  that we are sometimes misled to believe that we each succeeded or didn’t on our own, when this is so extremely rarely true when one digs deeper in the life stories of humans.

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