March 28, 2017

GUEST ROOM | My Path to Activism

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Editor’s note: This column was submitted as part of a nationwide campaign to raise awareness for Teach For America, and was facilitated by TFA staff.

If your Facebook feed is anything like mine these days, it’s filled with articles and posts from all sides of the political spectrum as people seek to make sense of changing social and political climate. But underneath the chaos, I see my friends grappling with the big question of our time: how will our generation create the future we dream of?

As a soon-to-be graduate, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my personal role in shaping our nation’s future — thinking beyond logging into social media or donating a few bucks to the causes that matter to me. Because when I added up my day-to-day actions, I couldn’t kick the feeling that it just wasn’t enough. And that lingering feeling brought me to Teach For America.

It isn’t always obvious how someone like me, a human development major, makes the decision to step into a classroom after graduation. If you asked me a year ago to forgo graduate school on the west coast to teach high school biology in Mississippi, I would have said you were crazy. But from where I sit today, the decision to bring my passion, leadership, and energy to a classroom is a no-brainer.

As the senior intern at Cornell’s Cooperative Extension Urban-Outreach program, I’ve had the opportunity to make a direct impact in the Ithaca community alongside other amazing leaders. Whether it was planning programming or engaging the children and their high school counselors, I loved knowing that I was leaving my mark on the city we call home. Even in the moments where I was chasing 30 energetic kids around the Sciencenter, I could be certain I was living out my values and investing my time in things that mattered. Looking back, it was exactly these experiences that defined my time in college and prepared me to take on the most important leadership position of my life thus far — shaping the next generation from the head of a classroom.

When I think about teaching, I know that the work will not be easy, but leaders are shaped by the challenges they face. Not only will I be planning lessons and hosting parent-teacher conferences, I’ll be on the front lines of change, tackling the issues impacting our country right now — racial and economic inequality, immigration, gender equality and more.

For example, Mississippi, my future home, is the origin of Brown v Board of Education, and a region where school segregation still looms over public schools. The economic depression and the geographic isolation of this region have led to an “exposure gap” that prevents students from exploring colleges, careers, and, ultimately, their full potential. By giving my students the tools to succeed academically, I’ll also be giving them to tools they need to advocate for their communities and solve these complex problems.

As Cornell students, we’re privileged to attend one of the top universities in the country. We’ve achieved something that far too many young people today can only dream of. And that is why teaching is my path to activism. As a corps member, I know that I’ll be making an immediate impact on my students’ futures, rather than fretting behind my computer or seething at the status quo. Instead, I will stand up and do something about it.

Today, I’m a soon-to-be alum of Cornell. Tomorrow, I’ll be joining the fight for justice. Tomorrow, I’ll become a teacher.

Miranda Santillo is a senior in the College of Human Ecology. Comments may be sent to associate-editor@cornellsun.com. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.