Selling out - we all enter college hoping to change the world. By Christmas of final year, we all have traineeships in big firms. At what point, did we sell out? Did we realise we sold out? Is this even selling out or is just looking out for yourself?
The Dream as a Side Hobby
Law and Social Justice has recently become an available college degree in UCD, Dublin, Ireland. It combines "the study of Law with the study of social exclusion, its causes and remedies. It will appeal to students who are interested in issues of equality, diversity and disadvantage, and who want to look in-depth at the social context in which law operates", or so its website tells me anyway.
The fact that this course exists at all isn't surprising. Many college courses and Law in particular, seems to engage those interested in policies, politics, and advocacy, which can lead to leadership positions. 23 of the 44 American Presidents have been qualified lawyers, as have former Irish Presidents Mary Robinson, McAleese, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi. People who aim to change the world often fall into college, sure that their degree is what was missing from the world. Students who come in at 18, 19 full of the naivety/ignorance/ arrogance of youth, thinking the world has been the way it is because it lacks their passion, but here they are now to step in and save the day. The question is, how long does this last?
The initial struggle of college alone pulls the rug out from under your feet, harder than expected. After time, you find yourself again, now discovering comfort in the monotony of black, white, rules, laws, of Land, Contract, in which there is always a correct answer, it just has to be argued. There is a satisfaction to be gained from being right and being capable of eloquently arguing the case. But this invariably means that your passions have been put to the side, taking the essential option of compulsory college subjects. Three years in, the unfamiliar territory of Human Rights law seems risky. Contentious issues have become an interesting, aside hobby, while we pave the way to a safe, secure career.
Could our 18-year-old selves-sue for breach of contract? The contract being the CAO ( College Application Form); Was putting Law, rather than initial desire to do Economics, signing a contract for living life of someone who wants to change the world?
My 21-year-old self would argue that the contract would be unenforceable because it was too vague, terms and conditions weren't expressed, never written down and nowhere to be found, unenforceable. Also, law doesn't imply world changing, could want to be a tax barrister or a lecturer, or a journalist.
Would my 18-year-old self's representation say that the terms and condition were implied? That although Law may not mean that for everyone, that was the understanding with which it was decided and then signed? That a subjective rather than objective view should be taken here? Would their representation argue that the last few years were an act or omission? Acting differently to the initial contract in considering X, Y, and Z for final year choices? Or an omission to not choose A, B, C?
Career guidance of school would be brought around as witnesses, telling the courtroom how there was always uncertainty about wanting to be a solicitor or a barrister, but that the industry was always the direction, with the aim of helping people.
Was my breach of the contract conscious and deliberate? Initially took steps towards the implied terms of the contract, read books on human rights and breaches, participant in college societies relevant to helping others.
Eventually joined an entrepreneurial society to gain commercial awareness, went on Erasmus and read books about German businesses and moved slowly away from the human rights, world changing element of the degree.
Would I be tried and tested? Would today's me win?
The way we see the world at 18 is inherently different from the way we see it even a mere 2/3 years later. As the saying goes, you can't run before you can walk. Legal jargon is a new game and you must learn the rules before you can break them. Constitutional, contract, and torts are your legal baby steps, human rights or "changing the world" subjects are marathons that are at an undecided date in the future, if you feel like running. The college years provide chances to explore other options, which may in turn lead to taking the well beaten path even when we can hear the Leaving Cert poetry of Robert Frost ringing in our ears that the "road less travelled...[can]make all the difference". Choosing traineeships may be putting dreams to the side, but it's with a promise of a steady, future career path. Sacrificing your whole college degree on the rocky road of "world changing" without direction is only going to cause stress while looking at options for immediately after final year.
Maybe instead of the world, we should aim to change lives. We wouldn't be so quick to lose hope if we narrowed our scope. As author Richard Flanagan eloquently puts it, "the world does not allow for miracles...the world is. It just is". The world just is. Lives, however, are open to transformation and tend to be done so through almost anything; movies, books, laws, art, science, other people. 2016 movie Moonlight portrays the struggle of a young, homosexual black man in Miami. This movie probably has already changed lives, broadened people's understanding, and tolerance, made LGBTQ* black people feel accepted and that their story was being told.
The 2015 marriage equality referendum in Ireland changed lives in a formerly Conservative, Catholic country. Popular vote told any LGBTQ* person in the country that they are accepted. The world is changing, one small act at a time.
And yet, despite a national cynicism, people, whether using their "world changing" interests as a part time hobby or a full time college course, whatever it may be, continue to try. Change starts at home, and students in Ireland have been adamant about improving the lives around them, one step at a time. From college societies providing free tuition to students who wouldn't have gotten it otherwise, or marching in protest against higher education fees, the passion of changing the world is still alive and well. It is better to take many small steps in the right direction, than to make a great leap forward, only to stumble back,[taking it] wisely and slow,[for] they stumble who run fast.