State of the Union fails to address students’ concerns

By RACHEL HARRIS ’14

Staff Columnist

On Tuesday, Jan. 28, millions of Americans bore witness to a hollow ritual in which we looked towards a single individual for prognostication of the coming year.

On a related note, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow last weekend, predicting six more weeks of winter.

The point I’m trying to make here is that the outlook envisaged by the State of the Union address—much like weather forecasts from a rodent—should be taken with a grain of salt. The content of this year’s speech, not unlike that of previous addresses, was filled with lofty rhetoric, recycled ideas and sweeping over-generalizations that were more likely geared towards this year’s midterm elections than the actual advancement of our country.

I can argue ad nauseam both for and against the many statistical biases presented by the President during Tuesday’s address. But for the sake of not being immediately and inappropriately labeled as a Republican who believes Obama to be little more than a socialist dictator, I will save my opinions for interpersonal discourse, should you be interested enough to seek me out to discuss them thoughtfully. Instead, I will describe the current State of the Union as I perceive it, based on facts relevant to my experience as an American citizen. I may share a lot of common ground with you, or my experiences may not be similar to yours at all. My experience is not superior to yours, but neither is yours to mine. All experiences are equally important and equally relevant to our collective future in this nation.

I am at a pivotal point in my life. Come May 30, I will be set loose from the safety and security of my Wellesley undergraduate experience and be flung out to fend for myself in the “real world.” Though in many ways I do not expect this transition to be too terribly overwhelming (by and large, I have been financially independent since coming to college), my near future remains uncertain, which leaves me—a one-track-minded, self-ascribed “Wendy”—uneasy. I’ve spent nearly every last penny of my savings applying to graduate schools. Yet despite being told I have the grades, test scores and research experiences, several hundred dollars of this investment have proven to be in vain as to date I have only received rejections in my inbox. I’ve been told by higher-ups in my field of interest (planetary science) that the sequestration has taken a serious toll on the number of students a graduate program can support. I was told personally by a graduate admissions officer at an elite east-coast university that the school only expects to admit 30 percent of the total number of applicants it usually does for the 2014-2015 academic year.

The State of the Union is uncertain.

Come May 30, my student loan debt can no longer be left forgotten on the back burner of my personal net worth. It will raise its ugly head at every mention of a tenant’s rental agreement, vehicle financing proposal and credit card application I come across. It will prevent me from putting money towards retirement by instead demanding I feed the insatiable appetite that is interest compounding upon interest. It will threaten me with a one in three chance of defaulting and will become the shared financial responsibility of whomever I decide to marry. My present significant other of two years is a foreign national from Europe with no debt to speak of at all. He’s admitted to me more than once how crazy he thinks it is to be, on average, tens of thousands of dollars in debt by your early 20s.

The State of the Union is in financial trouble.

By May 30, I will have accrued well over four figures in medical expenses since coming to college. I’ve had to “pay off” a significant chunk of these with unsubsidized loans just to get the collection agencies off my back (for now). The promise of the Affordable Care Act—that my parents could keep their policy (which by extension covers me) if they liked it—has not been kept. My family is now under a policy of self-insurance with a high deductible. I now pay full price for prescriptions and dread going to the doctor when I’m ill out of fear of an unmanageable and unaffordable bill.

The State of the Union is experiencing shortcomings in its healthcare system.

Come May 30, I will spend my last moments as a Wellesley student together with 631 of my classmates as we toss our caps in celebration of commencement. At that moment, despite its brevity, I push my burdens aside and instead bask in my having achieved a piece of the American Dream. And though graduating from Wellesley will not solve the problems mentioned here, it provides me with the skills and opportunity I need to make the best of my situation. Politics will always be there to frustrate each and every one of us, and though we may be quick to point fingers at the opposing party because it’s the convenient thing to do, it does not elicit progress. Prosperity is not defined by an address to Congress. It is defined by you.

The State of the Union does not reflect the state of me.

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