When I was twelve or thirteen, I made a choice—a choice to not be like everyone else. I wanted to do something big with my life. I wanted to be… successful. Whatever that means, right? I was never one of the kids who knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a firefighter, or a doctor, or a lawyer, I just didn’t know. The closest I ever got was in Kindergarten when we learned about dinosaurs, after which I was pretty convinced I wanted to become a paleontologist and dig up T-Rex skeletons. But I was always sure about one thing. When I sat in the auditorium surrounded by the hundreds of other kids in my middle school class, I saw nothing—a bunch of “shmucks.” I had to get out, their mediocrity was contagious.
I would go on to attend a prestigious private high school forty-five minutes from where I lived. However, unlike many of the students who would frequently grumble about being forced to attend an all male high school, I wanted to be there, and I thrived. I had asked my parents to send me there in eighth grade. Not because I sought real education. And not because I valued the principle teachings of a Catholic Xaverian Brother’s sponsored school, but because I thought, I knew, if I did well there, I would go on to attend an incredible university.
I had it all planned out. At the time I made this “choice” I wrote a list, it was a list of all the stepping-stones I had to complete to reach my goal, “Success”—with a capitol S. But what did success mean? What was I really after? Let’s break it down.
Apply and be accepted to private school
Attend private school, get all A’s
Participate in as many clubs and activities as possible
Be an All-American Athlete
Get recruited and accepted to top 30 university
Graduate College and accept job offer
Make lots of money so I can pursue whatever I want
That was it, that was my masterful plan. Well, I didn’t really know what happened after I made lots of money; I figured it would all kind of work itself out. There I was, a twelve year old, setting the course for my life, getting ready to climb stairs into the abyss. Money, was that the key? I only came to realize how convoluted this really was after I didn’t hit the most important stone. One of the hardest things that ever happened to me, I was rejected from my number one dream school. The worst part was the athletic coach at this school had given me false assurances about my acceptance. It was a fluke. All at once, my world came crumbling down all around me. What could I possibly have missed? I had done everything right; I had accomplished all my goals. I sacrificed four years of social life and freedom for this? The day I submitted my enrollment to Santa Clara University was one of the saddest days of my life, because to me, it was a signed acknowledgment of my failure. My failure to do, to be something bigger.
My dad grew up in a very rural area on a farm. His parents were separated; his only memories of them together were of their vicious arguments and his father’s drunken abuse. His mother left the farm when he was very young, leaving him and his younger brother, Harry to literally live off the land. His father continued to be a volatile alcoholic, often picking them up from school intoxicated. My dad grew up very different from the way I did—a privileged upper class lifestyle. I was never spoiled as a kid, but it was no secret that my dad supported the family well and finances were never an issue. I confided this point with my dad at one point during high school to which he responded:
Of course, I didn’t want my kids to have to grow up the way I did.
My Dad gave our family an incredible foundation, sending two of our four children to private schools, and putting all but one child through college entirely debt free. The one who didn’t? That’s me. Something changed my senior year of high school. I never really knew very much of what went on at my Dad’s work. He did well for himself and on top of that he came to almost all of my athletic competitions, frequently made dinner for the family, and loved us immensely, he was my role model. My dad, as I would come to find out, was falsifying signatures, misleading clients, and being incredibly dishonest in his practice. He was consequently suspended from the industry, having all of his licenses revoked, and getting himself into incredible legal trouble. The hardest thing was seeing my dad’s name online, “IMPENDING INVESTIGATION: Have you lost money with _____?” It was like one of those bad lawyer commercials. All the fees would bankrupt my family and rip an incredible void between my parents. Once again, my world was turned upside down. In a matter of months, our family went from what is commonly known as “the top 1%”, to being unable to pay our bills. We sold all of our possessions of worth and attempted to pick up my Dad’s mess, while he sat immobilized by depression.
I now understand what turns the cogs of this country. It’s just like what we discussed in our class. I know why we continue to decimate our planet and slaughter animals at our current unsustainable rate. In our group essay we unveiled that raising animals for food now uses a staggering 30% of the entire worlds landmass (OneGreenPlanet). This obscene behavior is only allowed because of the monetary assurances of “sketchy” government higher ups as we saw in the documentary film Cowspiracy. I know why people like Charles Heston, celebrate the NRA over the graves of the Columbine victims as we saw in the film Bowling for Columbine. All the way up to the top, it makes sense why we have such incredible gridlock in Congress and can’t seem to do what appears to be irrefutably just. As I explored earlier in the year after interviewing several SCU students, I found that our school isn’t nearly as sustainable as it claims to be. By making empty claims about the “environmentalist culture” on campus we are satisfying someone’s job requirement to yes, make more money for the University. In my final essay I quoted Sebastian Junger in his discussion on our countries services for retired veterans, “I mean, the U.S. is the most powerful country in the world, and it can’t run the VA correctly? It’s obscene” (Walters). Why do we continue to let these men suffer? It’s the same thing that drove my dad, the same thing that drove me—selfishness and a heavy stake in capital, and its incredible power to steer the wills of people. I saw first hand what this insatiable desire for money brings. Paper destroyed my family.
Yet, in all the destruction I found a glimpse of hope. Because of my dad’s fault I’m no longer beholden to the same path. It took some time, but I no longer resent my attendance at Santa Clara. I’m free to pursue what brings me joy. At the beginning of the course almost six months ago, we were asked a simple question, “What is happiness?” I still don’t know, but I’m a little bit closer, and that makes all the difference.
“Facts on Animal Farming and the Environment.” One Green Planet. N.p., n.d. Web. 16
Walters, Helen. “Why It’s so Hard to Come Home from War.” TED Ideas. N.p., 30 May
Web. 11 Mar. 2016.
Bowling for Columbine. By Michael Moore. Dir. Michael Moore. 2002.
Cowspiracy. Dir. Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn. 2014.