On Friday, I graduated from middle school. There was a fabulous speech from an amazing teacher (shoutout Mrs. D, you were awesome!), a long list of names and an afterparty. I went home, slept in, and woke up feeling lost and alone. Leaving the place that has been my home for the past three years is terrifying; so is having to say goodbye to the many friends Iíve made and the teachers who have shaped me in so many ways.
Frankly, it still doesnít quite seem real, and Iím alternating between crying jags and feeling like Iím dreaming. But graduating has also gotten me thinking about the future — specifically, what the world will be like by the time I graduate from high school, in four years, or college, in eight years.
For starters, how high will college tuition be? Recent studies show that, unless the tuition bubble bursts, fees will be even worse than they are now. Combine that with budget cuts for Pell Grants and community colleges, and college becomes much harder to access. Barring unforeseen circumstances, I will be able to go to college without needing financial assistance, but there are many — DREAMers, first-generation college students, and more — for whom these programs can and do make the difference between college and no college. Hopefully we will continue to support Americaís proud tradition of strong education for all who want it, but the future isnít bright.
Another thing I worry about is the availability of birth control. I (and everybody else) thought we had buried this debate a long time ago, but recently it has sprung up from its grave, as terrifying as any other zombie, and refused to go away. Hopefully, by the time I am in college we will have reinterred it, but considering the Religious Rightís extreme positions, I donít think itíll be a cakewalk.
Birth control is only the tip of the iceberg in a much larger battle over reproductive rights. Will students be getting the comprehensive sex education they need and deserve? Will Catholic hospitals still be allowed to deny women basic rights? What will I, and so many others, do if Planned Parenthood and organizations like it lose funding?
I donít even want to think about the state of abortion rights, especially considering Governor Romneyís support (along with much of the Republican party) of a dangerous personhood amendment banning hormonal birth control and all abortions — even for rape victims or in cases where the motherís life is at stake. Will I be forced to carry an unwanted baby to term if I forget to take my pill just once? Then again (and on a more hopeful note), with the possible advent of the birth control pill for men, I might not have to worry about taking the pill. That is, assuming those radical feminist legislators havenít banned itÖ
Then there is that little thing that comes after college: getting a job. Iíve heard itís pretty important, and while the economy is definitely improving, employment for 20-24-year-olds in May was only 62.4% — not great by any standard. Of course, by the time I graduate, those numbers will be meaningless, and our economy could be either booming or busting, but unless we can pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, I wonít be able to talk about my salary with my co-workers, so the gender gap in wages will stick around for longer. Maybe, 92 years after women were given the vote, Iíll be able to make 80 or 85 cents to a manís dollar? Talk about progress!
One area where we might actually see progress in the coming years is the area of LGBT rights, especially considering the growing support for same-sex marriage in the United States. Thereís definitely the possibility of dismantling DOMA, or even enacting a constitutional amendment giving equal rights to LGBT people (well, probably not that last one, considering that womenís rights hasnít even made it to the constitution yet, but a girl can dreamÖ). At the very least, support for gay rights will keep growing, especially among young people. Since young people will eventually be old people, and running the country, thatís nothing but good news (except for the whole suicide thing).
Then comes what is arguably the most important future development, both short- and long-term: the state of our environment. What will our planet look like in eight years? What will be the impacts of climate change? After all, the earth is at a tipping point, and the next decade or so will probably be the deciding one.
Hopefully, by the time I enter the workforce, more people will have realized that yes, our planetís climate is changing rapidly, and yes, the estimated 33.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted globally in 2010 might have something to do with that. And if they do, then our government might start making the hard choices needed to deal with the problem — or, more likely, the fallout. At the very least, it will be getting harder and harder to ignore, and although it might not happen in the next decade, Iím certain that at some point in my lifetime weíll be forced to recognize the truth.
Truthfully, I donít know what the world will look like when I graduate from college or high school. Heck, I donít even know what itíll look like next year. What I do know, however, is how colossally grateful I am to the many, many wonderful teachers I have had the privilege of knowing throughout elementary and especially middle school. I plan to be a teacher, and if I can give my students a fifth of all that they have given me, then I will consider that success. To all the teachers out there, but most particularly mine: thank you for all that you do. Educating the next generation of leaders is a daunting task, but if we have any chance of solving the many problems that we face, it will be all due to you.
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