For some it was the firefighters with their shiny red engines; for others, the astronauts and their ability to walk on the moon. Michael Jordan always figured prominently and Michelle Kwan received at least a few votes in the heated debates on the playground of my middle school over our dreams for the future. I remember sitting on the swing, and with each pump becoming more and more sure of what I wanted to be. Without any hesitation, in sixth grade I was positive that I would become a veterinarian. At that time, I believed nothing could be as wonderful as helping sick animals for the rest of my life.
Ironically, while deciding which classes to take this upcoming semester, I am avoiding science courses at all costs. At some point in the past six years, reality reared its ugly head and I realized my aversion to biology, and, consequently, the unlikelihood of my future as a veterinarian. Nonetheless, the importance of our childhood dreams isn't their veracity, I'll bet that most of us have updated modified and/or abandoned most of those pilot and presidential inklings, but the fact that they allowed us to believe that anything was possible, to ignore the financial limitations and other realities we become aware of with age.
While volunteering at the Portland Housing Authority this past week, I noticed that students made a board of their dreams for the future. Strikingly, the display lacked the frivolity of the innocent view of life my adolescent peers and I shared. Most of the students are first-generation immigrants from Africa whose pasts include the horrors of countries ravaged by war or the incomparable grief of leaving a mother behind in a refugee camp. Hence, the sports hero was replaced in one fourth grader's dream by the desire "to be a doctor or to make houses so that people can sleep there. I will go all over the world and if someone is hurt I will fix their heart. I will go back to Africa and help people." Ana, a seventh grader, wrote of her dream to "help some people who don't have food or money and make them happy" and to be a "judge" or "doctor." Reading these dreams, I was struck by how fortunate I am that my dreams could have no reality basis; for the first time, I understood that wishing to be an Olympic skier was a privilege rather than an inherent part of childhood.
Significantly, in the words of ninth grader Abraham, the means of achieving any and all of these dreams lie in the completion of education. "I want to be a man of government to help my homeland Africa. I want to feed the needy and stop the war before the land is destroyed. Once it's destroyed there's no place for our kids to look back and say, 'That is my homeland.' To reach this goal I will stay in school and graduate from college."
This upcoming week, Monday through Thursday (November 18 through 21) from 12:00 p.m. to 4 p.m., we at Bowdoin will have the chance to help make these dreams of Ana, Abraham, and countless others a reality. The Portland Housing Authority will be asking people to donate pens, notebooks, spare change, and any other spare school supplies at a table in Smith Union. At Bowdoin, we have ample opportunities to discuss issues, but fewer occasions to take action and to make a difference in other peoples' lives. Therefore, this upcoming week drop off a pack of pencils or some paper in Smith Union not only for Ana, Abraham, and the other kids in Portland, but for the police officer, movie star, or veterinarian that still lives somewhere inside of you.