Politics Personal

In watching the address given a few nights ago by our new President, there was one thing which really caught my attention. It's something he's mentioned before, but which some part of me really did expect to go by the wayside once he actually took office. He talked about the idea of tying together community service or volunteering with funding higher education. This is an idea I've been very attracted to for a long, long time. It's something I think we should have been having a national discussion about a long time ago, if not already implemented.

I've gone back and forth with the idea of going to college full time for a number of years. There are many reasons I haven't moved in that direction. Some of them are as simple as not having the confidence that I'd be able to actually make the most of it and take advantage of the opportunity and put my full effort into it. Some of it was a fear of finding out I'm not quite as smart as I think I am. Some of it was simple economics. I applied once a number of years ago, but I was only 23 at the time, and so far as financial aid for college is concerned, you're not completely independent until you're 24. I had no real contact with my parents at the time and certainly wasn't going to ask them to help finance my education after some period of estrangement, so I put it off. Later, I was consistently vexed by the application process for both college and financial aid. I wasn't organized enough to be able to track down all of the documents and such they were asking for. I'd get sufficiently frustrated over time, and just give up.

Recently though, I've actually gone through the whole process and applied for both college and financial aid. It's tedious, at best, but at this point, it's worth it. I've become uncomfortable enough with the prospect of spending another five or ten years employed in some area I both care nothing about and which isn't fulfilling to me at all. No matter the money, I'm not going to be happy punching a clock and collecting a paycheck for no reason other than to do so. I will work while I'm in school, but being in college and putting in the effort is at least enough work and opportunity to progress toward something I'll be happy with and passionate about to hold me over until I am qualified to be employed doing something like that.

The other night I watched the presidential address, and he brought something up again which I have felt passionately about for a long time and which was a big part of my decision to vote for him. He brought up the idea of tying funding for higher education with community service and volunteer work. It's something I've felt passionately about for a long time. It's also something which has been part of what has kept me from developing enough desire to move toward a higher education. Personally, I'd appreciate financial aid in going to school. I'm happy it exists, and I think it's good for the country to have it available. I've never wanted it for nothing though. I've been uncomfortable with the idea that some degree of financial aid is more or less free. Don't get me wrong, I don't think there's some principle which says it shouldn't be that way. In fact, I think it should be. But, I'm a single guy, with no children and very little responsibility. I don't have a child at home to support while I'm going to school. I just have me to worry about. Personally, I haven't really felt completely comfortable with the idea of just taking that kind of money from public funding with nothing given in return from me. I'm also a huge proponent of the idea that we, as a society, do something which is demonstrates that we value service to the community. I also think more people serving in their communities will help to re-establish a sense of community which has largely been lost, and that will help to create a new attitude toward our fellow citizens which will serve us well.

There's been this catch 22 in it though. I don't want to take money for free. I've done so in the past when I had to, but it was never in the form of public funding. Some of it, I'm sure is pride. I can't say that's not true. Again, I don't think it's bad that it's available, and there for people to use when they need it. I don't begrudge or bewail those who have or are taking some kind of public assistance. I just felt a lot more comfortable with accepting help from people specifically deciding to do so. I guess I always felt I'd be taking some amount of money from the public coffers which could go to someone who either needed or deserved it more. Again, it's always been just me and I never really needed much to live and sometimes felt the position I was in was my own doing and didn't feel right about accepting public help to get out of it. So, I've worked when I could. The thing is, without an education, it's become nearly impossible in the last ten or twenty years to find a job which doesn't leave you precariously close to a the precipice of financial emergency. I've worked, and in working with the hope of moving up and all that, there's been little time to serve or volunteer, except in one or two areas which have been necessary for my own emotional and psychological well being. There wasn't time for both a full life and volunteering a few days a week, if I wanted to be employed to a degree which would allow me to be progressing in that employment in the future.

Tying the funding of higher education to community service and volunteer work is a good answer for someone like me. I can take a year, live off a part time wage, volunteer and do community service, and give myself to it fully because first of all I'd love to do it, but also because I will be able to know it's going to mean I'm not accepting public funding for education for nothing. I will have given something for what I get. I have just had trouble with the idea that I was going to accept public funding for something that really was just all about me making more money and having a more materially comfortable life.

I've applied for a political science program specifically because I want to take part in trying to help legislation like this get through. I finally figured out that I'm not going to be comfortable with making a decent wage which affords me some material comfort in life if I'm not also working toward giving other people the same kinds of opportunity. I'm not going to be happy making a pot load of money if I'm not helping people get ahead as well. I'd like to make a pot load of money, just like most other people, but I'll be pretty miserable if it's just about me and the material stuff I want. Somehow, I have a great deal of conviction in the idea that the well being of the people in my community is directly tied to my own well being. I honestly think that for me, an it's one of the very few opportunities to have the best of both worlds. There's plenty of money to be made in a career related to politics, and there's also plenty of opportunity to try and do things which are measurably and recognizably helpful to people. Maybe that's a bit naive, but I'll trade the pot load of money for a lower middle class income if I'm able to live a happy life being useful to other human beings, and which I can make it through with my integrity intact.

I really hope that legislation goes through and that this is something that becomes a reality. It's the first time, probably in the whole of my life I've been able to look at something related to government and see a direct correlation between policy and my own ability to progress and make more of myself while also keeping both my values and integrity intact. Probably the biggest reason I voted for the guy is specifically because he talked frequently in his campaign about putting a new emphasis on service. I'll be very happy and very content to have cast my vote if this does come to fruition.


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