As a young girl I was infatuated with the Mary Tyler Moore Show. To me Mary was the epitome of successful single womanhood. She showed up in the big city, and her hard work and dedication earned her a great job, respect, and ultimate happiness. The show's theme song gave me hope that one day, with enough hard work and dedication, I could achieve my dream and eventually "make it after all." Now I'm not so sure. As a college student facing graduation in a year, I've lost my faith in the accessibility of the American Dream. Thus far, I have been fortunate to surpass a large percentage of my peers from high school in my preparation for future success.
I'm not still living at home. I did not get married at 18. In fact, I worked extremely hard in school and even harder in athletics so I could get a full-scholarship to a prestigious university and a graduate debt-free. Though even with my over-priced and elite preparation, I still don't feel secure in my future. Like many of my classmates, I have a nagging feeling I will never equal, must less exceed, my parent's accomplishments or financial success. Frankly, I'm terrified to graduate.
As a society that lives in a culture of abundance and opportunity, we are always sensing that the next big break lies just over the horizon with the next job or notable achievement. David Brooks, editorialist for the New York Times, sees America as a nation obsessed and admiring of the rich and famous. He ingeniously discloses that, "None of us is really poor; we " re just pre-rich." What then, you ask, is the American Dream that I am so resolute to achieve? It is not a classic childhood aspiration for movie star status or the obsession with absolute wealth and position. I am much too sensible to chase such delusions, but this being said, I too pursue an equally illusive fantasy. The dream that infinite upward mobility exists. By "upward mobility" I mean the absolute freedom to ascend economically and socially in the American class system.
I desperately want to believe in ultimate and unlimited opportunity and stability. In terms of possessions, I want a house, 2 cars, and no debt. Marriage will not be necessary for money or status, and eventually work will be a choice, not a requirement. I aspire to be remembered and respected as a woman who accomplished something meaningful and valuable with her life. This is my definitive "American Dream." While I would like to believe that my hard work and top tier college degree will land me a prestigious job and provide the resources to accomplish these goals, I know my fate lacks the certainty of those who have come before me.
A few generations ago a college degree basically assured success and prestige. Now I find myself staring into a never-ending checklist of employment credentials. College? Check. Graduate School? Law School? M.
B. A. ? PHD? Where and when does one finally achieve success? With ambitious work ethic as the foundation of our capitalist nation, there comes the assumption that endeavor and effort automatically lead to ascension of the corporate ladder. Unfortunately, in a society with a sharply divided class system and economy that rewards dividends and capital gains over hard work, those at society's peak are not budging and middle class college graduates are encountering a more arduous climb than they bargained for.
America has been labeled a nation of equal opportunity, and yet the issue of class appears to be a larger player then anyone might have guessed. A study of income and its correlation between fathers and sons performed at the California Technical Institute suggests that one's biological family matters as to how they will ultimately fare in life. The study shows that thirty percent of sons with fathers in the highest income distribution rose to that level themselves; whereas a mere twelve percent of sons in the bottom distribution rose to a similar income level as those at the top. Moreover we find roughly sixty-five percent of a father's earning advantage is transferred to his son. As a result, college graduates with a comparable education, but lacking the same affluent pedigree or distinguished connections, may still find it difficult to compete against this developed tight-knit upper class. In addition, our current economy only serves to aggravate the situation.
The President promises us an optimistic equitable economic future, but it does not look as if it the majority of Americans will be reaping its benefits. In his recent New York Times op-ed, Paul Krugman illustrates this current fiscal predicament. While he concedes that corporate interests are doing very well, the great majority of wage-paid Americans, who do not live off not dividends or capital gains, are not finding the same economic stability. In three years, wage and salary income have grown less than a tenth as fast as profits. Proving, once again, the rich continue to maintain the economic edge. Abraham Lincoln once said, ''I hold the value of life is to improve one's condition." While I do not wish for anyone's value to hang on their social and economic status, I do feel it is important to re-examine our current hypocritical notion of opportunity.
In a society that prides itself on equality, hard work should count for so much more. Though in the face of America's current class and fiscal hierarchies, I am finding little to take solace in and calm my graduation anxieties.