The Young and Disenchanted

Posts Tagged ‘America

It’s that time in April when jaded and exhausted college seniors are slowly beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The sun is (generally) shining, we’re more or less certain of our future plans (more the latter than the former, to be fair) and there are tons of activities planned for the next month or so intended to strengthen our bonds of friendship and fill us with nostalgia for our days as wide-eyed and optimistic freshmen drunk off the joy of living in New York City (and by that, I mean drunk off free Natty Light at frat parties). On this list which defines the life of a graduating senior, the “future plans” segment has become more and more prominent in conversations on my campus. It’s kind of like the “What were your SAT scores/what are you majoring in” of our first year (ugh, I HATED those questions). Suddenly folks you haven’t spoken to since a couple of awkward encounters during sophomore year in a dorm elevator are curious about what you’ve been doing for the past four years and how you plan to apply the skills you have supposedly gained in the “real world.” Now, being the disenchanted young woman that I am, I tend to view these questions when fielded by anyone I don’t consider a close friend avec – how do you say? – le side-eye. My cynicism seems somewhat justified by a recent document I was made privy to in which, essentially, my classmates entered information about their post-graduation contact details, summer plans, starting salary, potential spousal requirements… you know, the standard things one frets about in the “real world.” Personally, I believe that if you want to know what I’m doing after graduation, we should be good enough friends that I’ve been telling you about my plans in person since last summer, not entering these myriad details into a form as a means of keeping in touch. Perhaps I’m just being idealistic, but this somewhat depersonalised approach makes me uncomfortable.

This is not to say that such an activity is entirely driven by base motives: if one has a large social circle, perhaps it’s easier to have everyone’s information in one easily-accessible place as opposed to struggling with lingering memories of half-forgotten conversations a year later. However, I think more people are concerned with the “networking” aspect of such an enterprise – knowing where your classmates will be working may help you to make connections and plan your ascent up the corporate ladder accordingly. I’m sure anyone reading this must be thinking: “Um, no shit, Sherlock – what the fuck else did you think you were going to college for?” Well, pardon me for my unconventional thought, but I had hoped that I would leave college with an expanded mind and drive to change the world. I guess I fucked up… which is why I don’t have a job with Merrill Lynch. Epic fail.

Or so it would seem. You see, there is an underlying assumption on this dear campus of mine that pretty much everyone wants to follow the same path to fame and glory: that all of us would like a penthouse in Manhattan, a red Ferrari (personally I prefer a black Mustang) and a name – you know, that recognition amongst an elite group of people that you are the unequivocal shit, an outlier, da best (shout out to Drake). After all, this is what the American dream was built on (although back in the day, this was probably closer to a townhouse in Chicago, a tricked-out horse and buggy and a shiny plaque at the Episcopalian church down the road with your surname on it). However, mes petits chou-fleurs, not all of us had the good fortune to be born and raised in this wonderful country known as the USA. Some of us who are attending college here were raised in the hot and sweaty tropics, deep in the heart of darkness, as far away from the shining citadel as you can get. Where I come from, it is a precious few of us who have the luxury of being individuals in the sense that your personal success reflects back on you and you alone. Oh, no – if I am successful (which the meaning of my name promises me I shall be), it is a success for my family, my village, my tribe and each and every Nigerian boy and girl who hopes to one day go to America and also become a success. In the words of Lagbaja, it’s always “we before me.” Sure I can go ahead and get that Mustang, but I had better make sure my mother isn’t struggling through the streets of Lagos in a broken-down Kia before I drive off the lot. Before I do well for my own sake, I have to be aware of the duties that I have to fulfil to those who came before me and those who will come after (i.e. the ungrateful brats adorable offspring I shall one day give birth to).  Of course I want to be successful, but where I come from one’s individual achievements aren’t just about you and how you compare to others: it’s also about improving the conditions of those who aren’t as fortunate as you are and helping those who helped you get where you are, no matter how indirectly.

Now I realise that this is somewhat tangential to my original train of thought, but one thing that has struck me in my four years of college is the extent to which the mantra of “American exceptionalism” has shaped the atmosphere on my campus. There’s a certain “we’re the shit (up in this bitch)” swagger that I guess I’m supposed to adopt because of the fact that I’m going to hold a diploma with this university’s name on it and because I got the chance to rub shoulders and share dining hall meals with the future leaders of tomorrow (or some other such eulogistic language that may be bestowed on us at graduation). And that’s wonderful – after all, this is the country that brought us the car, modern democracy and the atomic bomb. All my country has apparently done is introduced the term “419” into popular lexicon. However, I worry that all of this individualism is breeding – again, what words to pick? – self-obsessed twat-heads who only see other people as stepping-stones to a bigger house and a brand new iPad. This is not to say that all Americans in any way, shape or form are all like this, or that my country is full of people who care about each other and who want to lead us down a path of peace, prosperity and progress – there’s a whole rack of military thieves who disprove that claim time and time again. But even they hook up their brother’s child, their grandmother’s maid and their old school buddy in the name of family and community. And those connections are, for me, far more important than the ones that make me money. It is important to me that I remain humble about my achievements and take nothing for granted because, in the end, I’m not that special, and there is so much in the world that is bigger than me and my egotistical existence.

The depiction of rural Sudanese life in Tayeb Salih’s novel Season of Migration to the North always underlines this for me: despite the foreign education that the narrator receives and the turmoil that the Western world has brought him, the caravan of life continues to go on regardless of his angsty musings. I guess it’s a matter of perspective, but as long as I’m able to build meaningful relationships with the people who are taking this ride with me, I’m actually pretty okay with being average i.e. realising that I’ll never be the CEO of a company (although I will not be telling my parents that those are not my future plans – trust and believe). The people I admire the most are always the ones that are seemingly simple, who don’t treasure outward appearances but rather possess the kind of self-knowledge that would make even this last stressful semester of college easy to bear, and who recognise that it’s not the job you have or the money you make that determine your real legacy.

P.S. I was originally going to go with Erykah for this post, but then this Mya joint randomly popped into my head… damn, memories. Shout out to Sisqo.

Advertisements