Shortly afterward, I received a phone call from an angry cousin, asking me "Is it true that you're going to school to become a Broadway actor?" Initially taken aback, I had to laugh it off as I reassured her, "Of course not? Me? An actor? Nope, it's law school for me!"
But I haven't exactly finalized those plans. I'm dreading LSAT preparation, a possibly dreadful first year in law school and making my way in the real world. Yet, the more I thought on it, the more offended I grew by how blatantly my family doubted my acting abilities. Were they aware that they had the next Denzel Washington on their hands, ready to take the world by storm?
Well, in case anyone is wondering, I have no serious plans of finding my big break in the acting business. But what's so wrong about wanting to pursue a career in that field after four years of study at Princeton?
The answer lies in my socioeconomic background. In today's struggling American economy, many members of my family have had to cut corners and find innovative ways to make it from paycheck to paycheck. Many times, I've sat with my elders, listening to stories of how hard they had it growing up, the dream houses they wished they lived in and the cars they imagined themselves driving in a perfect world.
Unfortunately, my acceptance and subsequent enrollment at Princeton gave some of them a bit too much hope. As the much-belabored Committee on Background and Opportunity survey elucidated, a higher percentage of students from lower-income backgrounds have future salaries in mind when selecting majors. Back in 2006, when I told my family that I would be studying politics and going to law school afterward, my decision was met with much fanfare. Finally, their dreams of having a politician in the family would come true. They predicted the coming of the day when they'd finally be able to say, "We told you so!"
Granted, I could understand their excitement. With all of the talk of the bad luck that had befallen many Griffin men, perhaps they saw the years they spent encouraging me in my academic endeavors paying off in the form of a high-powered, six-figure-salaried job after graduation. So as I thought of my ill-received joke about pursuing acting, I wondered, "Are they being unfair to me, or am I being unfair to them?"
The academic, extracurricular and social pressures of this place, as we all know, can be difficult to bear at times. Those of us who also deal with the pressures of family and their hopes and aspirations for us, however, sometimes find ourselves sacrificing our interests for the sake of appeasing our loved ones. How, then, do you come home two years after starting college and tell your family that you decided to major in religion?
The responses to the bombshell I dropped on them ranged from comical to downright indignant. "Praise the Lord, brother," I heard from some, as they inquired how long it would take me to join the clergy. "And ... what exactly are you going to do with that?" was a more common response, with the implied (and unuttered) follow-up question, "Where's the money in that?" My favorite reaction, however, was: "I can't believe you're wasting all that money to study religion."
What happened to the days when my intellectual curiosity was encouraged? I felt myself grow disheartened whenever the topic of Princeton popped up in conversation, as I countered their disapproval with reassurances that I would still go to law school. Did the amount of money I make after graduation really have anything to do with them?
As a member of a family in which the young traditionally give back to their elders when they come of age, I have no plans of breaking that trend. I am much indebted to my family for helping craft me as a critical thinker, as a unique personality and as a dreamer. Yet, my love for them shouldn't be measured by what I study here, what career path I choose or how much money I make.
One day, they'll be able to see that. It may not be in the immediate future, but I intend to keep my vow to give back to them the same way that they gave to me over so many years. I'll also try to keep the Broadway jokes to a minimum in the future.
Walter Keith Griffin is a religion major from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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