Where Big (D)reams Come To Die
Nov 28, 2021
Attiya Khan imparts a hard-earned lesson: as students at the Ivy League, we have a responsibility that demands we boldly examine and reject systems of inequality.
When I was a child, I believed getting into a school like Dartmouth was my ticket out of poverty. My parents both worked most of the week, but found time to constantly remind me that education was the only way I could save myself from their fate of crumbling bodies and emotional exhaustion. The first eighteen years of my life were spent devoted to books, pretending I didn’t notice when my classmates started disappearing like ghosts, either due to dropping out, drug addiction, or incarceration. I used to think it was enough to make it here; that one success story was better than none, and I could always come back to help when I had better tools. Now, as a senior with graduation right around the corner, I realize that the ticket I have been given comes with no plus ones.
In childhood, our dreams were so large before they faced the weight of capitalism. Astronaut, doctor, singer. All of these big dreams, as variable as they could be, were of the same general flavor; at that age, we all wanted to save the world because we still believed we could. But over the years, those I grew up with became conscious of our circumstances. Many became absorbed into systems of oppression that make any dreams, big or small, seem impossible. Only 35% of American adults will go to college, and in my hometown, the number is likely smaller, overshadowed by the number of people who will work in Amazon warehouses, convenience stores, construction, jobs that leave little of the body over time. The fantasy of a college education that would solve every problem became all some could cling to. One acceptance meant that a person from a town like mine could have the freedom to dream big dreams.
I did not want to believe the rumors when I was a fresh-faced eighteen year old. Surely, a place like this had more to offer the world than a pipeline to investment banking companies. But this year, just as I watched my classmates disappear due to tragedy all those years ago, I watched my classmates disappear into the dark covers of the financial recruitment season. Unlike my younger classmates, my current colleagues had the luxury of choice. With an entire liberal arts education under their belts and the power of a powerful institution, they still chose small dreams.
In fairness, there are many people in the Ivy League who, either out of compassion or sheer stubbornness, refuse to give up on their ambitions. They ignore the promise of a luxurious lifestyle with work-subsidized dinners because there are things that remain more pressing. They become writers and teachers and organizers and people who center their lives around a community. I remain endlessly impressed by the creativity and zeal of every new class of students.
But the looming cloud of the investment field, with its promises of torrential downpours of cash, is hard to ignore. This is not to say that all people who choose this field are evil; this is too simplistic of an argument. Rather, they are participants in the very same systems that sent my classmates to prison. Many of them are recruited through a rigorous process through which they are “fed” to different companies as interns and potential associates. They face long working hours, the disappearance of any semblance of a personal life, and constant surveillance from higher ups, all for the vague possibility of some day sitting in that top-floor office with a view. Saving the world seems so unattainable that when given a choice to choose one’s place in the wealth hierarchy, it is easier to choose the top (or what feels adjacent to it) rather than question why such a hierarchy must exist. And so the machine presses on, and the world remains not only unsaved, but devoid of the childlike passion we all once held to even try.
To live in the United States with an Ivy League degree is not a simple accomplishment or badge of intellectual superiority. It is an emblem of the level of responsibility we hold in critically re-examining the systems that lead us to pensions rather than exploitation. We have an ethical responsibility to reject systems of inequality, not with subtlety, but with the full weight such an undertaking deserves.. The world is so much bigger than Dartmouth or the Ivy League or Wall Street; give yourself permission to be a part of it.