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  • Writer's pictureProject Voices

Sofie Robinson

My name is Sofie Robinson. I was born in New York City, but I grew up and still live in Boston. I’ve played competitive golf since I was nine after starting with my grandparents. I am also the keyboardist in a rock band, Crash Course.

I wrote this essay for my junior year English class. My grandfather and I have always been close, but our beliefs (particularly in terms of politics) tend to differ. It’s been difficult for us to understand one another’s point of view, but writing this essay helped me understand that our experiences shape our beliefs, and because we have had very different experiences, naturally, our beliefs diverge. Over the years, I’ve found myself much more able to understand his perspective, and I have a great deal of respect for why he thinks the way he does.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” The question seems simple enough, but I never know how to respond— my answers range from ‘civil rights lawyer’ to ‘songwriter.’ So when my grandfather, a proud scientist, asked me this question one morning over breakfast, I gave him something in between: a journalist. “Are you sure?” he inquired, genuinely skeptical. And he rattled off everything he always does. Doctors get paid more. Writing careers are too risky. Why not be an engineer? Most engineers have fixed entry salaries. Tired of hearing the same things I’d heard ten times before, I groaned pointedly and rolled my eyes. He looked up from his plate, his face riddled with what I mistook for anger. Instead of the scolding I anticipated, though, he took a deep breath. And it all came spilling out.

He walked to school every day with no shoes. He came home and cultivated land that was not his own to provide food that was not his to consume. His family’s wood-and-cardboard house would blow over several times a year in a typhoon; he would rebuild it. I surveyed the home we sat in. The heat suddenly felt warmer; the lights shone brighter; the walls seemed thicker and sturdier.

He continued. He had five brothers, but by the time he was fourteen, he had none. His father gambled away the family’s already paper-thin funds, and by the time they were finally dealt a good hand, his father had folded, his will to live stripped away by his addiction. What was once a family of seven had dwindled down to only a family of two, but my grandfather saw an opportunity in the cards he was dealt: an application for a full scholarship to National Taiwan University. And he hit the jackpot; a Ph.D., a distinguished professorship, a happy marriage, and two children followed.

But I didn’t care to hear his life’s sob story. “I want a job where I can help others,” I retorted, and, glowing with my ten-year-old supposition of moral superiority, I informed him, “Money is not everything.”

“It is when you don’t have any,” he replied. I was silent. I knew that his words had been profound in some way — I just didn’t quite understand how.

Now, seven years later, I do. Education, to him, is survival. It’s the proven route to individual success and happiness, and it’s the way to make money and live a comfortable life. Of course he would be worried if I chose to abandon the proven, ‘safe’ path of science and medicine in favor of the supposedly uncharted territory of the humanities. But I wish he could see that I am not dismissing his emphasis on education; I just see it differently. As someone fortunate enough to have the financial security that he didn’t, education, for me, is not a matter of life or death, of escaping poverty or staying in it forever. Though education will undoubtedly provide me with opportunities for economic and material success, my preexisting privilege allows me to prioritize broader social change with the knowledge I gain. I wish my grandfather could take a step back and see that, without his even realizing, his education actually has helped others — yes, he created a stable life for himself, but he also passed down to me the privilege he never had. Because of him, I have the luxury of seeing education not as a necessity but as a tool to change the world.


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