Dear graduating class of 2015,
Now that I’m graduating in a few weeks, there’s something I want to get off of my chest.
First, I want to say that Harvard-Westlake’s teachers and resources have passed on so much important knowledge to me that I can’t begin to even explain. My fervent curiosity and urge to voice myself are attributes that I have developed from my time here at Harvard-Westlake. I’ve had opportunities that I could never have anywhere else — hearing actor Samuel L. Jackson and Mayor Eric Garcetti speak, witnessing Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel conduct our school’s orchestra, getting to rent out noise-cancelling headphones from the library or experimenting in the over-equipped laboratories. For that, I am thankful.
I’ve encountered many culture shocks since the first day I came to Harvard-Westlake in seventh grade. For the first time, I saw girls recklessly throwing their Marc Jacobs bags, which they used as backpacks—crazy!—on the ground. I saw some girls in my grade get nose jobs and other girls get $200 designer sweatpants. I saw people pay $40 to enter parties on the weekends. To this day, however, I still don’t quite understand the attraction to it all.
The biggest confusion I have come up against is the ability of some of my fellow classmates to actively ignore the social and cultural problems that are omnipresent domestically and internationally but don’t directly affect them.
Ask yourself, “When was the last time you took action for a problem that didn’t affect the wellbeing and lifestyle of you or anyone near you?” When I say problem, I don’t mean a problem that can be dealt by donating money or holding bake sales. I mean a social and cultural problem that is so complex to fully understand—such as gender and race inequality, police brutality or the prevalence of gang culture in dangerous neighborhoods that you wouldn’t dare enter. The unfortunate fact is few of you can say “YES” with a confident voice. Neither can I. I don’t post enough videos and articles on social network sites to raise awareness. I don’t participate in enough marches. I don’t volunteer enough.
When I asked Harvard-Westlake students and alumni about their opinion on the Ferguson shooting after it had happened, I have to say I was depressed hearing their answers. Many of the answers I received ranged from, “I don’t know much about it because it doesn’t affect me” to “I know about it, but haven’t taken action because it doesn’t affect me.”
When police shootings of unarmed black people have been prevalent in neighborhoods around the United States, how can you say that it doesn’t affect you? When black people make up only 13 percent of drug users in America, but 74 percent of those arrested for drug possession, how can you say that the disenfranchisement of black people doesn’t affect you? When mothers of African-American children are scared that their children could be the fallen victims of police shootings, how can you look away from the crying voices of Baltimore? When racism is so embedded in our consciousness, how in the world do you have the right to say none of this affects you?
But now that we’re so close to graduating, having more responsibilities and becoming the leaders of tomorrow, we all have to have more compassion for other people’s problems. Judging by their parents’ lavish lifestyles, I can say that most of my classmates are part of the privileged top tier in society and will be the future employers of the world. Spoiler alert! So to everyone in my grade, use your privilege as a way to voice the problems of other people who aren’t being heard. Use the abundance of money you have to help those who don’t have the same opportunities as you. Believe me that you guys have the power to do anything you want, which is why I’m worried that some of you will use your privilege for greed. You guys are the ones who can change the disgusting things we heard about the American government and culture in U.S. History class. Give me compassion or give me death!