A call to teach, serve

When I think about my time here at the University of Minnesota, I think about many incredible experiences: finishing my thesis, reading for hours on the grass in the mall and making some of my closest friends. But I also think about that gnawing question that always lurked: What am I going to do after I leave this place?

But the question of what I could do after graduation actually has a second part — what should I do?

The truth is I lead a pretty privileged life. As overwhelmed as I feel knowing I have so many post-graduate choices, I know I’m incredibly lucky. I worked hard to get to and through college, but I went to a high school where kids were expected to graduate and we had plenty of support and resources to help us plan our next chapters.

Whenever I needed support, I never had to look far. I had constant encouragement from my family, friends and mentors.

But I know that the same isn’t true of kids all across the country. Too many kids lack the opportunity to imagine a fulfilling future for themselves. For students, this disparity in no way reflects kids’ capabilities — it’s a result of deeply entrenched systems of oppression that have denied low-income kids equal access to opportunity for decades.

I applied to Teach For America because these educational injustices are unacceptable. Minnesota is known as a state with great public education, and we lead the nation in ACT scores. But when you look a little deeper, we see that this is true for some kids but not others.

A 2012 report shows that Minnesota in 2011 ranked 49th out of 50 states for black or African American student high school graduation rates. And in 2012, we ranked dead last, 50th out of 50, when it came to graduation rates for Latino and Native students. As long as these statistics persist, our communities, families and nation suffer.

I know teaching will be incredibly challenging and humbling, and I will have to push myself harder than I ever have to give my students the education they deserve. I will need to work in close partnership with the parents, teachers and community members who have been working toward justice and equity long before I arrived. But I don’t want a job that lets me turn a blind eye to the injustice.

I want one that holds me accountable for the inequities that plague our communities — because, although I did not create them, I’d still bear responsibility if I chose not to address them.

We are united around the fundamental belief that a quality education is not a privilege — it is a right. As you think about what in the world you’re going to do after you leave here, I hope you’ll join us.