At the close of The Last Hunger Season, the 2013 selection for Northwestern’s One Book One Northwestern, one line in particular jumps off the page. Author Roger Thurow describes one family’s ability to afford basic necessities in life, like education, savings and proper nutrition. These were once out of reach of the family, but thanks to a successful year of harvesting, they were “now earning about 8,500 shillings a month (about $100).”
In September, as I got more and more excited to finally start school, that one line fixed itself in my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that for everything we take for granted, that family had less than nothing, not even able to count on basic necessities. When I finally arrived for Wildcat Welcome, I realized what I had been thinking about: We all attend a school that’s well-connected to a multitude of opportunities, presenting us world-class facilities, talented professors and a degree that employers will respect. Yet, in our daily, heavily occupied states, we often fail to remember exactly what position we’re in, at an elite university in the wealthiest nation in the world. While we often fail to acknowledge it, every single one of us is privileged to be here.
It’s this perspective that’s lost on many students. In our day-to-day lives, it’s all too easy to forget how lucky we are to be at Northwestern. Instead, we get wrapped up in complaining about miniscule matters like crappy dining hall food, classes on the other side of campus or CAESAR.
Now, that’s not to say that every single student has the same experience at Northwestern. We’re home to a wide array of socioeconomically diverse students, from the 15 percent considered low income to the 33 percent who need no financial aid to afford Nortwestern’s $60,840 annual cost. While we all come from different financial backgrounds at home, every student has opportunities that trillions of others around the world will never see. The chances presented to us at this university are a great equalizer, letting any student make something exceptional of their experience.
In so many cases, our actions disclose our failure to grasp this fact. Last December, a Facebook group called “Get Rid of Guest-Northwestern” aimed to eliminate the campus guest Wi-Fi network. Why? Because, according to the founder of the group, “It doesn’t work and I always have to take a minute to get it back to the regular Wi-Fi.”
At Northwestern, we even manage to find ways to complain about Dillo Day, a festival that brings in world-class musicians that most of us will be too drunk to even remember. It’s perfectly understandable that we raise these concerns, given that things like Dillo Day are a component of student life at Northwestern. But sometimes we just need to take a step back from our immediate surroundings and realize what kinds of things we’re complaining about.
It’s always a helpful reminder to be aware that so many others don’t have a music festival to complain about, much less classes at one of the world’s greatest universities. These complaints are a shame. I firmly believe that Northwestern students aren’t willfully ignorant of their good fortune. Without meaning to, we unknowingly get stuck in a campus bubble, with everything beyond Sheridan out of sight. This bubble distorts our image of reality, making trivial details seem overly significant and abstract while rendering relevant problems as a hazy fog in the distance.
On a personal level, I constantly remind myself of just how fortunate I am to be here. As a Quest Match Scholar, I’ve been given the chance to attend the university of my wildest dreams, an opportunity that would be far beyond my family’s means without it. Keeping that in the back of my head has kept me grounded in my first quarter here, never letting me forget that I can’t take the rare position I’m in for granted. That’s not to say that I’ve found every single aspect of my time here perfect. I could go on and on about having to be a part of Ignite, the freshman orientation program – which is ironic, considering it’s designed to improve my experience. In cases like those, I unconsciously let my immediate, natural frustrations bubble to the surface.
However, in those moments when I find myself upset by minor inconveniences like having to walk to Annenberg, remembering how different my circumstances could be refocuses my attention on what matters. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t want to improve our campus experience, as students demonstrated by enacting a Mental Health ENU last year. But that doesn’t mean we should fail to appreciate our position. While not every student’s path is the same, we’re all Northwestern Wildcats, and that’s something to be thankful for.