Oh, the places you’ll go

Chronicle Staff

Right now, a farmer in Peru is plowing his field. A woman in Bangladesh is selling bracelets on the street, a businessman in New York just closed a deal, and a college dropout is playing guitar at the Promenade, his case open for tips. Buddhist monks in China are chanting while a baker in Paris is placing baguettes in the oven. Meanwhile, students at Harvard-Westlake are writing papers, scoring goals, taking pictures, playing instruments. Everyone, everywhere, is doing something.

I went to Ghana this summer through the Experiment in International Living, spent five weeks with 12 other students learning not just about Ghanaian culture but about the world. We were in a rural village in the central part of the country for 10 days, helping the villagers expand their primary school and painting a mural with them.

I met a medicine man who, when we asked how old he was, started laughing because he had no idea. He looked about 100. I met a 14-year-old boy named Kwaame who wanted to go to college, even though there wasn’t one remotely near his home and it was obvious that his family was too poor to afford it. I met an 18-year-old girl who had a baby daughter but no husband, an eight-year-old named Abena who taught me Ghanaian hand games and the chief of the village.

I met people who couldn’t read or write or do simple math, people who had been given so few opportunities and still made so much of their lives. I’ve never seen a happier group of people, yet I’ve never seen poverty at the level I saw in Ghana. I started thinking about Harvard-Westlake and the education that we receive – not only do we know how to read, we can read difficult books and even sometimes understand them. We write essays, we do math problems and science labs. It’s almost a guarantee that we’ll go to college.

Our lives are drastically different from people in other parts of the world, and sometimes we forget that there are other ways to live.

I realized how many different ways there are to be happy. I know I’ll go to college, but I also know that I’d probably be just as happy doing something else. I started to see my life not in terms of success – which is something many of us do at Harvard-Westlake – but in terms of what I want to do and what makes me happy.

I thought of the quote by Dr. Seuss – you know, the one from “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”:
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” And really, anywhere you decide to go is perfectly fine.

— Lauren Rose