Interesting discussion on WSO about at article that we discussed on EphBlog. Ellen Song writes:

I was basically with the same group of kids between 1st and 5th grade. There were very few native-born Americans in my class. In fifth-grade, an entire third of my class was composed just of first or second-generation Korean kids. Not to mention other Asian students like the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indian, and Latino students. Our teachers were pretty decent, though, despite the NYC shortage of teachers and relative underpay, at least in our “gifted” class, which was the level I experienced all my years at this elementary school. I was lucky to have had the ability to take an exam to test into a similar “gifted” junior high school, and escape the worse conditions of our local junior high school. In all my years of junior high, I didn’t witness a single fight or drug deal. My brother, who attended my neighborhood junior high, has seen otherwise. My “gifted” school was, fortunately, free.

And lucky me (and my brother as well), for testing into a *free* “gifted” high school as well, and so avoiding the neighborhood high school with its lower graduation rate, higher drug rate, fewer advanced programs, etc. etc. During high school, my friends were from various walks of life, which I wouldn’t have really experienced at either my neighborhood high school, or an “elite” private school on, say, the Upper East Side. One of my closest friends lives in a beautiful 4 story brownstone in a prosperous Brooklyn neighborhood and has professional parents. Another of my best friends lives in a one-bedroom apartment in inner Queens, and his closest neighborhood buddy is a notorious, young drug-dealer in the area. We all took the same AP courses, we all had the same teachers. Both are among the smartest people from my free, gifted, inner-city high school, yet neither was accepted into the various schools I’d been accepted to. They are in no ways inferior to me. My best friend from high school had a recommendation written by our principal (no small feat in an overworked public school of over 4000 students), had a GPA that was decently higher than mine, took only the most difficult courses, was given the utmost respect by faculty and fellow students, was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in the yearbook… yet this person is attending a public college here. In no ways is he less intelligent than I, but this is what life has given him.

I say I’m lucky, because who’s to say that things couldn’t have gone the other way for me? Maybe I would’ve never gone to my particular junior high (had my 5th grade teacher not been attentive), which would set me up for my high school, which is where I became the person who was accepted by Williams and similar places.

Being back home has reminded me of what I have at Williams. My [largely immigrant, lower socioeconomic] neighbors have never heard of Williams. When I tell them I’m an English major, they look at me perplexed, as if to say “Why?” because it’s not very practical for people who grow up here… not something like, say, business management or information technology. When I go to the supermarket, the Bangladeshi cashier who has watched me grow for the past 10 years looks at me proudly; her brother-in-law, who runs the bodega across the street, tells me that there are so few other kids like me in this neighborhood, and that he’s glad to see me doing things with my life. As I ride the overhead subway, I see all the graffiti (many of the artists are likely my brothers’ friends) I’d taken for granted over the years, and I realize that I’m probably one of the only people in my subway car to receive a college education. Or speak English fluently, for that matter.

Amid all this, I’m reminded of the elitism at Williams, and how different my life probably is from most of my classmates’. Not in a bad way, certainly, because I feel like I have a perspective that not everyone has (not to say that anyone else’s viewpoint is less valuable, of course) and it can really, truly, help me appreciate what I am receiving at a prestigious institution. I’m not ashamed of my background – even at dinner at my professors’ house, where many of my classmates were speaking of the corporate or professional jobs their parents had, and I couldn’t say the same about my family- because it’s just not something I could or would change at this point in my life.

I wonder how many people think as I do. I wonder how many people sit in Paresky or inside Schow, actively and consciously thinking, “It is a true privilege to be here, with these people.” But it doesn’t matter how many other people are thinking this way, I guess. Not really, because it won’t change the fact that I’m thinking it.

Good stuff. In my experience, the ability to recognize how lucky you are is not correlated with wealth. Williams is a privilege for all of us.

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