In the United States, we grow up surrounded by the concept of “the American Dream.” This has become a staple term of our nation and culture, but often we don’t take the time to discuss how it functions or what it really means.
In the spirit of 4th of July, we at CM set out to understand the American dream in the eyes of the millions of college students who are living it. The feedback was fascinating and in many cases, complicated.
Jake Higgins, a broadcast journalism major at Syracuse says: “The American Dream is being able to work hard towards what you want to do in life with the knowledge that your goal is possible to achieve. Not many other countries citizens have that freedom. I am currently living out my American Dream by going to school in preparation of becoming a sports radio personality and interning this summer calling play by play for a MLB Prospects team. I am working towards my dream.” Higgins’ feelings on the subject, although colored by his unique experiences, represent a very classic interpretation that was echoed by many interviewees.
David Villa, a Cuban-American senior at Cornell, shares an almost textbook story of the American Dream. “It means the opportunity to have every advantage possible for being successful in a competitive world economy, he says. “I am living it by making the most of all the hard work that my father put in towards being successful in the U.S. Legally coming from Cuba during the Cuban Revolution from a very poor family, to be able to work hard and achieve success as a physician is truly a testament to how great this country is. His story is very inspiring and by taking advantage of everything he has worked so hard to do, to provide for my family, I am living the American dream through him.”
Boston College student Thais Menendez shares an interesting opinion about the shift in perception of the American dream from the generations of our parents and grandparents to ours, saying: “I think the American Dream carries a dark connotation these days because the vastly successful are few, but the reality that thousands come to this country in search of opportunity or refuge speaks to some level of its resonance.”
Nate Richardson, currently pursuing a MFA at the Boston Conservatory, shared feelings that reflect this “darkness” with reference to the classic description of the modern American dream. “As a gay person, an atheist, and an artist, I feel somewhat detached from mainstream American ideals. Considering I was born into an upper middle class family and am now entering a field where I go right back to the bottom, I would say my personal American dream is success in the performing arts, which is all about upward mobility and starting from the bottom.”
This difficult climb to the top that Richardson describes is one that most 18 to 20-somethings are facing as we speak. Terrifying as it can be, almost all of our interviewees expressed hope to reach the top one day, based on the opportunities they have found here.
“For me, the American Dream means being able to have the resources to pursue what I love,” says Cristina Ramos, a student at Florida State University. “More specifically, it means that I am able to choose dance a career [with] support from my family and friends. In August I will be moving to New York to engulf myself in the arts, mostly dance. I am able to live a life how I dream it and able to find a way to make it happen”
Jara Settles, a law student at Washburn University says: “The American Dream is simply a united effort to allow people to be everything they've ever wanted through hard work and intelligence. I think that I'm living that by attending law school. My family likely couldn't afford to send me out-of-pocket but because of some academic diligence on my part and the benevolent contributions of scholarship donors I am able to go.”
“This is a difficult question to answer,” says Middlebury student Maddy Lawler when faced with explaining the American dream, “because part of the freedom of choosing your own dream or path means that every American has a different one. Additionally, part of my freedom to choose what I want to do has to do with my parents' hard work, which has allowed me to do what I love, whatever it may be. In this way, the American dream is a chain, from generation to generation, and makes it a communal dream and goal."
"I think the key/unique part of the American dream, though," Lawler continues, "is that your path is freely chosen. I think I am living the American dream by choosing a major based on what I love (film), rather than what may be the most practical (whatever that means in 2013). I think living the American dream mostly entails doing what you love and want to do, and doing whatever it takes to make your own dream a reality.”
Happy 4th, and cheers to our 2013 American dream.