Each year, seniors at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School deliver a speech to their peers on a topic of their choosing in the Newhall Auditorium. Often equal parts clever and moving, emotional and personal, each speech offers a glimpse into the lives, experiences, struggles, and triumphs of SSM seniors.
Throughout the 2018-19 school year, we will share these speeches with the SSM community and hope that you enjoy the humor, wisdom, and powerful reflections conveyed by our senior students.
We all have our struggles. Through sports, school, and social life, Shattuck students are tested by life one way or another, and hopefully they successfully persevere through these obstacles. These hurdles build character and personality in all of us.
Yet there is one struggle in life that many privileged Shattuck students have never experienced: the struggle of poverty. Being in a private boarding school really puts us in a bubble. From the three meals a day, to our new Hub being built along with the new sports complex, all we see and experience is prosperity, the fruitful life of the rich. But did you know that more than 41 million people in the United States are living in poverty and that essentially half the population on earth is living in poverty?
My family and I experience poverty first-hand every year when we travel back to my parents’ homeland of Macedonia. My parents are Albanian, but grew up in Macedonia. When they were young, this part of the world was in turmoil as former Yugoslavia broke into six separate countries. Several members of my family fought during this chaotic civil war.
Due to this fact, opportunities in Macedonia were limited, so when my parents were in their early twenties they left Macedonia for a better life. For the first couple of years in America, my dad worked 17 hours a day, while my mom busted her tail working as a clerk. They are now proud owners of their own business, which took literal blood, sweat, and tears to build. My parents take me back to Macedonia every year for family, but it shows me the true struggle of a poverty-infested area.
In Macedonia, there is no bubble protecting people from the hardship of poverty. Unemployment rates are at a staggering 20 percent, compared to America’s 4 percent. Many of the employed are underpaid, living on less than 20 dollars a day. I remember one day walking the streets of Kercove, Macedonia. I was going to the grocery store. On the sidewalk I saw a very old man. He had been born without arms, he was missing one of his legs, and could barely speak properly. He was sitting on the side of the street asking for money. Which is more typical than one might expect. In other cities of Macedonia, the streets were people’s home, the alleyways their bathrooms, and rainwater their showers. Witnessing poverty to such a degree affects you mentally without you even acknowledging it.
Having seen the effects of poverty, it most definitely makes me more frugal and mindful of how I spend my money. But it also makes me more thankful for the things I have. Getting to know more Shattuck students, I see that most of us really don’t know how well off we are. With Range Rovers, BMW’s, Rolex’s, and the only clothing many of us have is Lulu, “I’ve gotten everything I wanted” is a statement I have heard more here in four short months than I have my whole life before. Even with all these luxuries, some of us are still not satisfied.
So, my fellow classmates, I implore you to not take for granted what you have. Opening your eyes to this hidden epidemic, will show you how truly lucky we are. Our families work incredibly hard to give us opportunities like no others. During this Christmas season, I hope you enjoy time with your family, but also think about those that don’t have as much you.