Letter to the Editor: After CMU, you could Teach for America

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When I think about my time at Carnegie Mellon, I think about a whirlwind of incredible experiences: Greek Sing, Spring Carnival, and late nights at Razzy. But I also think about that gnawing question that always lurked: What in the world am I going to do after I leave here?

Although this question is the quickest way to get any senior’s heart pounding and palms sweating, I actually have several ways I could answer it. I could look for a consulting job in New York, apply to law school, or take some time off backpacking through Europe. I have choices. But the question of what I could do after graduation actually has a second part — what should I do? As I turned each choice over in my head, none of them felt quite right.

I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a place where Ph.D.’s are easier to find than McDonald’s. With both of my parents working as educators for the University of Michigan, education had always been a top priority for my family. As a kid, I didn’t recognize just how privileged this made me. Yes, I worked hard to get to and through college and I faced struggles along the way. But I went to a high school where kids were expected to graduate and we had plenty of extra support and resources to help us plan our next chapters. Whenever I needed support, I never had to look far.

On top of all this, it wasn’t just my family and teachers that encouraged me. Examples of successful people who look like me were all around, from the people I saw on campus during college visits to the majority of government leaders and actors I watch on TV. Everywhere I turned, society told me I could be whatever I chose.

Meanwhile, too many kids lack the opportunity to imagine a fulfilling future for themselves. For students growing up in our lowest-income communities, just six percent will graduate from college by the time they’re 25.

This statistic in no way reflects kids’ capabilities — it’s a result of deeply entrenched systems of oppression that have denied low-income kids equal access to opportunity for decades. I know that I can use my experiences to help kids battling these odds imagine an ambitious future they define for themselves, and make that future a reality. More importantly, I believe I should.

I applied to Teach For America because I believe that privilege is a responsibility. I didn’t ask for this privilege any more than Madison, a little girl I encountered during my internship in the juvenile court, asked to bounce around foster homes. When I think about what I can and should do with my privilege, working to be part of creating a more equitable system for kids like Madison is the answer that fits.

I know this work will be incredibly challenging and humbling, and I will have to push myself harder than I ever have to give my students the education they deserve. I will need to work in close partnership with the parents, teachers, and community members who have been working towards justice and equity long before I arrived.

But I don’t want a job that lets me turn a blind eye to the injustice kids face every day. I want one that holds me accountable for the injustices that plague our communities — because, although I did not create them, I’d still bear responsibility if I chose not to address them.

As I become a Teach For America corps member after graduation, I’ll be joining a network of more than 47,000 people working relentlessly to make access to opportunity equitable. Teach For America is a network of leaders, vastly diverse in background and experience, working across sectors to create change.
We are all united around the fundamental belief that a quality education is not a privilege — it is a right. We can fight to ensure all students get to enjoy that right.

As you think about what in the world you’re going to do after you leave Carnegie Mellon, I hope you’ll join us.

Molly Shanley is a senior decision science and international relations and politics major.