I understand what students go through with the four issues of the university industry: admissions, cost, career training, and community. I can see how all four can have the capacity to beat us all down. However, I have a unique experience that I would like to celebrate, something that puts me in a position in which these issues are something I have not had to worry about. Rather than worry, I have something to uplift others up and demonstrate that our situations never have the power to defeat us unless we give it to them. If Pablo Picasso had it right when he said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away” (Picasso, par. 1), then my gift is the diverse background I was raised in and the woman I was raised by. Everything my mother taught me shaped the way I view the world and the part I can play to conquer its problems, rather than letting the problems conquer me. She showed me that there is so much more knowledge to be gained than what can be taught in a classroom. I learned that people must aim to strengthen their understanding of the many diverse backgrounds that make up the world and be willing to learn from each one of them. Through doing this bonding we find what makes us different and how these differences can come together in order to achieve a shared goal. We discover the unique piece of the puzzle that in turn makes the picture whole. Knowledge, experience, and empathy are the gifts that my mother gave me, and she is the gift that keeps on giving.
I believe that people have the potential to be more than the situations they are given; a poor daughter of uneducated immigrants living in the ghetto can become a first-generation college student, senior vice president of a bank, and a mother in the suburbs; a boy growing up in an abusive household may take an oath to protect and serve as an officer; someone growing up in an atmosphere of uniformity and discrimination may remain utterly fascinated with people’s differences rather than conforming to their similarities. If we are open to an empathetic and cooperative learning environment in which “... no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other, mediated by the world…” (Freire 1), as opposed to a banking concept of education, we may rise above all of the obstacles in our path. The real issue lies not in the university but the education system as a whole. We are taught that success is only real if it is for our own personal gain. However, we cannot get admitted if we are too self-involved to branch out and become well-rounded; we cannot pay for school if academic achievements alone are not enough to guarantee a scholarship; we cannot succeed in a career if not taught to work well with others and we may not enter our communities as active citizens if the only person we wish to help is ourselves.
How then do we succeed? How do we not let ourselves get lost in the cracks, swallowed by the beast that is the university industry? If I can learn respect from Rodney and in turn he experiences kindness; if I can learn courage from Sarah and in turn show her understanding; if I, a bisexual Puerto Rican Jewish woman, am open to learning the experiences of a straight white agnostic man, have I not grown in my understanding? Have I not put my ideas under a microscope only to discover they were not so different from the beliefs of the person next to me? As Kelsey Picciano wrote in her blog post, “The reality I now knew was an expanded and fuller understanding of how I, as a single individual, fit into this whole big world” (Picciano, par. 1). If we open our hearts and our minds to the wisdom of others, we become a force so strong that nothing can tear us apart or knock us down. In Ria Shah’s blog post she wrote:
Walking the streets of Mumbai, tightly gripping my mom’s hand, a boy my age with a grin on his face, grateful for the two coins in his palm, looked me in the eye. Instead of seeing him as separate from me, I felt as if I were staring into my own reflection…. Distorted in many ways yet perfectly positioned, he was artistically flawless in delivering a unifying message. I saw myself inside his begging body. I realized at this moment that we human beings are fundamentally forbidden to shield ourselves from events outside our comfort zones. This unknown, unnamed boy, born into the lowest caste and purposefully made to warrant sympathy, rests inside all of us—it’s the voice telling us that we are all one in this meshed-out game, so struggle to be your best and I’ll struggle to be mine (Shah, par. 13).
This experience of oneness is what opened twelve-year-old Ria up to the connectivity of the world. As an adult, she sees that differences are superficial and understanding is universal. Is this not success? If all people on Earth learn that through cooperation things can improve, have we not defeated the divisive education system that aims to put us at constant odds with each other? Success is more than getting good grades; it is more than money, more than a job or a nice house surrounded by a white picket fence. Success transcends the tangible and is, in fact, achieving a reality in which human beings can work together towards the betterment of the world.
Ria’s powerful experience of Advaita (unity) reminded me of a lesson I learned at Temple Emanuel: a Jewish philosophy called תיקון עולם or Tikkun Olam. It roughly translates to “to heal the tear in the world” (Barnahum). It is the idea that our success solely depends on the ability of all people from all belief systems, races, ethnicities, political parties and walks of life to work together until the world is repaired. The reason I have not felt defeated or beaten down by the university industry is because I never came here with the idea that the classes at Hofstra University would make me whole. I came here with the idea that the people I meet, the relationships I form and the knowledge I gain outside of the classroom will lead to “the tools to live a principled, significant and meaningful life and thereby to ultimately and collectively improve society” (Gordon, par. 1). The university-industry may not defeat me if I do not give it the power to be fully in charge of all of my education. Through working together we may become individuals with a more diverse understanding in an environment in which we lift each other up rather than tear each other down:
I am a citizen of the universe. For why do you say that you are an Athenian, instead of merely a native of the little spot on which your bit of body was cast forth at birth? … When a man therefore has learnt to understand the government of the universe and has realized that there is nothing so great or sovereign or all-inclusive as this frame of things… why should he not call himself a citizen of the universe… (Epictetus 1).
If my mother is able to learn from her environment and if I am able to learn from my mother and if we are all able to learn from each other, then we have put ourselves in a position where we cannot possibly fail. If we get over the problems plaguing our generation---the tendency to be self-involved, distance ourselves from others and be in constant competition---we may learn from each other and achieve our success together. We are citizens of the world first, new members of our communities next, students at Hofstra and then our own people. This is not to say that we give up on who we are; on the contrary, it is that we use our unique identities to create a bigger picture.
What I am asking for is a revolution, not in the university but in our own thinking. What I am asking is that we keep our minds open to the experiences of others and use their wisdom to gain our own. We teach our communities the value of understanding, love, acceptance and תיקון עולם so that the university cannot defeat us because we have gone beyond it. One can still see the value in their degree, in their specialized education, in their own individual goals; so long as we are aware that as citizens of the universe it is our duty to use them to better society and not just ourselves. “Knowledge comes mostly from experience and from learning about the people in your world rather than learning about the world apart from them” (Parker, par 4). The university industry may seem like a tough one to beat if one thinks they are on their own. Fighting against “the system” may seem appealing until we realize that through joining it and changing it from the inside we succeed. The gift of unity is one the never ends: the gift of love and of learning. These gifts are how we succeed, these gifts are the knowledge we impart, they are the gifts that keep on giving.
Barnahum, Daniel, Rabbi of Temple Emanuel of East Meadow. May 2015.
Epictetus. “The Discourses and Manual, Together With Fragments of His Writings.”
Freire, Paulo. “Banking Concept of Education”
Gordon, Paul Kirpal. “Essay 3 Prompt”.
Parker, Morgan. “Gettin’ Queer for Dope: Learning How to Learn About LGBT Identity”. 04 February 2016. https://giantstepspress.blogspot.com/2016/02/gettin-queer-for-dope-learning-how-to.html
Picasso, Pablo. Personal Quote “Essay 3 Prompt”
Picciano, Kelsey. “Forging a Whitmanic, Post-Traditional, Bisexual Identity” 28 January 2016.
Shah, Ria. “Has The University Stolen the Fire in our Bellies?”. 27 October 2015.