Guest Viewpoint: Graduate, then change the world

The following was contributed by Rebecca Brennan, a University of Oregon senior studying family human services and ethnic studies. She is also the Panhellenic Council president. This piece reflects the view of the author and not those of Emerald Media Group. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected].

If you’d asked me three years ago where I was headed after graduation, I would’ve said “wherever I could help people.” From the moment I arrived on campus, I was searching for a degree that could give me purpose. I tried on a whole slew of majors: human physiology; planning, public policy and management; and psychology. Then, last fall, sitting in a lecture on Pacific Islander studies, I started to wonder. Maybe all the skills I’ve been honing in family human services and ethnic studies — critical analysis, effective communication and looking at the world through an intersectional perspective — were actually preparing me for something perfect. Maybe I could make an impact, develop my skills and even hold on to some of the things I’ve loved most about University of Oregon: a sense of community, school spirit, opportunities for impact and relationships that matter.

All of these maybes led me to Teach For America and the career I’ll begin in education this fall. Everything about it makes me anxious. Will I be good enough for my kids? Will I feel at home at my new city? But I’m sustained by what I know. Education isn’t serving all kids in this country. We’ve got to change this – and fast.

Nothing about doing so will be easy. That’s because the problems in our schools didn’t start there – they reflect deep, systemic, overlapping injustice across race, class and geography. A family who can’t access health services and struggles to keep both parents employed. Those working multiple jobs who need after school care, but don’t live in communities with the resources to provide it. Each inequity makes the next one worse – with students bearing the brunt.

Easy? No. Impactful? Absolutely. When we choose to teach, we choose to disrupt this repressive cycle. Outside of my studies and work with Panhellenic Executive Board, I’m fortunate to spend a few hours every week working with students at the Martin Luther Education Center. My time mentoring is a sharp contrast to the bubble of life on campus. The students I work with are at the highest risk for dropping out, substance abuse and incarceration. They all have active cases with the Department of Youth Services and need additional behavioral or classroom management.

And yet, our conversations are as full of hope and possibility as any here on campus. Every week we engage in critical discussions regarding the arts, current events, obtaining a GED and the relevance of job training. Despite all the challenges these students face, both inside and outside of the classroom, they have visions for their futures, all of which involve education. The hours I spend with them have quickly become some of my favorite of each week.

When we come together to help kids change the way they think about their own abilities and futures, we create classrooms full of students who are dreaming big. When we equip them with the skills and tools to thrive in and out of the classroom, we cultivate boundless potential – the future scientists, politicians, writers, artists, doctors and attorneys who shape the world we are all going to share. It won’t happen overnight. It will take sustained, thoughtful effort, and I want to be a part of it.

I don’t know exactly where this next step will take me. If I love teaching as much as I think I might, I’ll keep at it. Or maybe I’ll become a principal or launch a start-up to address some of challenges my students face. Wherever I go, I’ll empower my students to break the cycle and strive to become part of a better one.

I can’t wait for school to start.

Do you appreciate independent student journalism? Emerald Media Group is a non-profit organization. Please consider a donation to support our mission.



Tell us what you think:

Tanner Owens

Tanner Owens