The responsibilities of privilege

OXFORD, England – I came back to Williams for a few days in the beginning of Winter Study. I came to see friends and professors, have a little fun and escape from reality for a while. While at Williams, I was surprised to find that reality had made frightening inroads in my absence.

During my visit, I found that those I saw were in the process of finding “gainful employment,” to use the term used by correctional institutions around the country. Their lives were comprised of interviews, signing bonuses and aspirations of making seven figures. My friends were jetting off to interviews in New York, Boston and Los Angeles, all the while in search of the all-powerful dollar. I was meeting people who were going to be making more than their parents within four or five years, some even sooner. This was the consuming passion of winter study.

I want to say that there’s nothing wrong with this, because this is what thousands of college seniors all around the country are doing. But I can’t. I find myself wondering if the investment banking and consulting industries are the highest and best uses for a Williams education, and again and again I have to say no.

Everyone who attends Williams is privileged, and I’m not speaking of socioeconomic status. Instead I refer to talent. Each of us has worked hard to get to Williams and continues to do so, and for that we are each to be commended. Yet none of us would be able to attend this institution if it were not for the abilities we were born with. Whether you believe it to be genetics, natural selection or God-given talent, all who attend Williams are blessed with ability. A certain English professor referred to us as “The American Elite.”

With this privilege comes a sense of responsibility. Our abilities come at a cost, and that cost requires us to use our talents as best we can and not merely for our own gain. The pursuit of more and more material goods is not a high enough goal for the talents we’ve been blessed with. Our gifts ask more of us.

The years immediately after we graduate this institution will be the most productive in our lives. It is then that we will begin to make our contributions. We can either live in this world with little effect on it or make it a better one. The pursuit only of wealth lets us know the exact worth of our life in a precise dollar figure. However, a price cannot be put on contributions that go beyond personal gain.

Money is not evil, the exclusive pursuit of it is. There is nothing wrong with working to make money, but it is how we use that money that will define us. We have been given gifts of talent and we have a responsibility to give something back. In searching for a job we must realize that wealth is a means, not an end.

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