I’ve been trying to forget what summer’s supposed to be like.
Endless days of chasing the sun’s inimitable rays, thoughtlessly swimming in a lake filled with melted snow and eating ice cream to distract tongues from talking no longer make up a typical day in my dream. This is the second summer I’ll be spending most of my time sitting at a desk, absorbing the stark white lights of a classroom instead.
Though I have robbed myself of the summer I intricately planned last year — flying back to the Philippines to visit family and friends — I have bestowed upon myself something more valuable than the fulfillment of checking off goals on a list. I am doing what I want to do, not what I feel I have to do.
To declare my major, political economy, I’m taking two economics classes I wish I could understand as easily as I could stomach their rhetorical bullshit. I want to start my junior year with the quantitative certainty of an economist and the unrestrained curiosity of a philosopher. While my wits may be initially dulled by the constricting precision of mathematical analysis, their ends are sharp enough to pencil out the formulas and models.
I only realized that my head has always been in the clouds when I felt the drop in altitude during my first semester at Berkeley. I thought it was in my best interest to forget about pursuing journalism or working for the United Nations because it was all useless. I thought journalists were arrogant martyrs who risked their lives to inform a public too preoccupied with Jersey Shore and Sarah Palin. And the UN wasn’t any better. Why would I want to work there, when its post in Liberia’s civil war was nothing more than an absent presence?
In addition to these cynical thoughts and hopeless quandaries, I was concerned with the profitability of it all. Here I was, an immigrant blessed with the United States’ gift of financial aid, and I was about to waste it on a masturbatory major? This was my opportunity to reach the height of my potential, to do my best and to live the American dream. I did not leave the suffocation of the Philippines’ pollution and bureaucracy only to take the easy route and end up in the same situation in California. I was, I thought, just as capable and determined to pursue a discipline that was the equivalent of a six-figure paycheck.
But my head was still in the clouds, in spite of the plans I made to pull my bootstraps up just like the middle-American I was meant to be. While I was busy forging a plan that reflected the plight of an immigrant’s dreamlike success, I was also dreaming of answers that would lead me to a Plan B.
After a year of effortless mediocrity that my GPA unabashedly reflects, I realized that my academic horizon would remain cloudy and grey as long as my pursuit of greatness remained superficial. How could I understand the fog of numbers and functions in my head when my practical reason was disconnected from my current reality? My fiscally centered future was a point in a graph that meant nothing in the real world. A function in a formula that determined the weight of inputs in my life, inputs that couldn’t be reduced to numbers.
We live in paradoxical terms, by rules that say one thing but mean another. Though our government promotes democracy worldwide, its own people repress the right of homosexuals to marry. Our society reduces human interaction to the confines of traditional values and nondenominational ones by way of desperately televised evangelism and instantly gratifying game shows.
The fog in my head has cleared, but my head is still in the clouds. Models and formulas do not reduce humanity to the certainty of numbers but rather work with humanity’s absurdity to make life better. But what is “better”? At what cost do we move forward only to leave others behind? Why do we keep up with the rat race of life when we are people with enough senses to question whether to be or not to be?
Though my pursuit in economics is far from over, the light at the end of the tunnel shines all throughout. I am here this summer to share this light with you as I try to uncover the grey areas that the oversimplification of society has reduced to black and white. Just as the blend of black and white form the color gray, the blend of our individual actions shape the world we live in. Seizing the day by feeding impulses instead of thought leads to our disconnect from the struggles others face.
I’ll be seizing this summer mostly sitting at a desk, stimulating my economic thought and drinking Mojitos at the same time. While my summer won’t include scenes from Animal House, it is what it is — an exploration of the shadows ignored by the frenzy of spring.