you can change the world?

J.K. Rowling at Harvard

Woke up this morning in the mood for some inspiration and thought I would start off with a TED talk. Somehow, I came across this gem from J. K. Rowling.

One line stuck with me, although most of it was good. She commented on the privilege of being an American. She talked of America still being a superpower and how our active civic participation has lasting impacts across the world.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the lack of political involvement of  the 18 – late 20’s maybe mid – 30s. I was thinking about two parts of this demographic: those who go to college and those who do not. Or even further, with those who make it through and those who do not.

At my internship last week, I was able to sit it on calls people were making in to find resources. There was a collection of young people calling in looking for things like gas money, or assistance with a housing deposit. I didn’t have much information about them, but they had children and seemed to be working most of their time and so I suspected that they were not in pursuit of higher education. Life starts much sooner when your education ends at high school commencement. Life is thrust on you at 18, if it wasn’t already before. I don’t have this life and so I just don’t feel comfortable commenting on what the challenges may be or what people have to encounter. It is hard enough being between 18 and 30. At least I had the safety bubble of higher education. While my age probably devalued my voice in the American system, my identity as college educated added some value to my participation. The young people that the Obama Campaign was made up of were probably college educated, for example. I don’t know if they were looking to include the young people who had kids, jobs, struggles that trump the life dramas that made up my college career. Those of us in this age demographic get so many benefits like free bus rides, discounts at places, career exploration support, counseling services, medical support, access to knowledge, access to information and the internet. Also the world, despite the economic black cloud, looks more optimistic because after four years our lives will inevitably be better. I remind myself of this sometimes when I am lamenting the financial constraints of being a graduate student. I can lean on the fact that a year from now my future will look brighter, and the world will welcome me in. I can imagine, that in a life of poverty, no such promise exists

Rowling commented that poverty is not an ennobling experience but is a life of struggle and fear. For those of us that have done AmeriCorps and felt our connection to the poverty stricken was somehow cemented because we “knew” what it was like to be poor, this should be an unsettling realization. That is all that I will say about that.

But back to civic engagement. I had to remind myself of the differences between those 18 – 30s in college and those who are not and how their needs and concerns can be very different. Yet, I feel that a mobilization of some sorts that brought their issues to the forefront of public debate, could have such lasting and incredible benefits. Yet, then I’m reminded of that Freire’n philosophy of working with and not for people….

So I guess I will focus on the domain in which I live, those of us who live in college towns and inhabit new communities but remain so distant from what is going on in our own backyard. I thought about this with Irene and how young people could get involved to assist with the recovery. I also remembered the active participation of Irish students in their higher education system and government, and how their voice was actually being heard.

I believe in using your strengths and passions for the betterment of society. I have learned not to push that ideal on others but I still think that even if you want to be a money hungry career driven shark person, you can still do something that contributes to the world around you. You can. Being civically engaged is not only about volunteering, it can be about social entrepreneurship and innovation. It can be an endeavor that provides financial benefits to both you and the world around you. I just believe that.

I had a lot of issues with the invisible children campaign that swept the nation. But I think it highlighted that people are looking for a movement and inspiration and a way to make a difference. As young Americans, the pressure we put on our leaders can change the world.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.

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