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Guest Viewpoint: Find your platform for change

This piece reflects the views of the author, Hannah Stewart, and not those of Emerald Media Group. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected]

“What happened to law school? I had no idea you were even thinking about teaching.”

When I tell people that I’m planning to join Teach For America and teach elementary school in Indianapolis next year, I’ve received every possible reaction. My professor is excited that I’ll get to share my love of learning with my students. And, admittedly, my parents are nervous about me taking on challenging work so far from home. But mostly, people are confused.

I’ve grappled with how to best respond to these questions. Do I tell them that leading a classroom is the most challenging profession I could have chosen for next year? Do I tell them about the ninth grade teacher that changed my life? Do I tell them that I don’t really know how global development and teaching come together, but that I’m pretty sure there’s no better use of my time and energy?

When it comes down to it, it’s all of those reasons, plus one more. I believe that the classroom is a powerful place for social change, where all of my identities and experiences can come together to help pave a different path for my future students. When I think about the issues I’m most passionate about, the issues that I’ve been working on as a student — immigration, equal access, voting rights, feminism — I come to realize that there’s no better place to tackle them head-on than in the classroom. After all, education is the most powerful tool at our disposal to disrupt inequity and create opportunity.

As an International Studies major, I’ve narrowed my interests to human rights and global development. Through my studies I have come to believe that education is the cornerstone on which all other rights are realized. By facilitating someone’s right to education, you give them the tools to advocate for themselves as change agents in their own life. By providing my students a quality education, I hope to inspire them to become the future civic leaders of our nation, and powerful players in progress and change.

As a corps member, I know I’ll face incredible obstacles as I tackle these complex and systemic challenges. But I also know that I’ll grow my skills to thrive in different settings and gain a strong network of innovators to lean on. But what’s more, I’ll continue to shape my values and beliefs, find my voice as a leader, and more clearly define the impact I want to make on the world.

I’ve worn many hats during my time as a student — Resident Assistant, tour guide, tutor — and all of these experiences have helped to define who I am, my values, and what I’m most passionate about. But through all of these different experiences, I’ve found a common thread: we must be the change we seek in this world.

Whether it is education, law, technology, politics or any other career path, it is important you discover what drives you. With the looming question about what to do after graduation, and the pesky questions from friends and family, I charge you to find your platform.  Let that guide you to create real change in whatever it is you are meant to do.

So as you consider which path you’ll forge after graduation, I encourage you to listen to the voice that tells you to do what’s a little unexpected. Listen to the experiences that have defined your college career thus far. Step out of your comfort zone. I hope you’ll find that your path is richer for it.

Hannah Stewart is an International Studies major. She is also a 2017 Teach For America – Indianapolis corps member.

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