On Monday, April 16, twenty students were arrested at Yale University after refusing to leave the school’s financial aid office during a rally. They were demanding that Yale remove what they regard as a financial burden for its low-income students on financial aid. The burden in question was the Student Effort requirement which requires students on significant financial aid to make a financial contribution of between $2,800 and $3,350 to their education by working on campus.
Chief among the protestors was an international student on a student visa from Pakistan, Shaheer Malik, who objected to the having to work up to 10 hours per week in the library scanning barcodes on the grounds that such work robbed him of his ability to fully enjoy the social activities that constitute the Yale experience. Other students complained that having to work was unfair because it discriminated against them based on their economic status whereas as their wealthier counterparts were spared the injustice of having to work.
The protestors prove once more that there are people in our county that fail to realize that immigration is a privilege and not a right; that their parents’ procreative choices are not the fiscal responsibility of others to bear; that our country was founded on political equality not economic equality; and that the task of assuming responsibility for one’s life as an adult supersedes any social activities or play time that might be part of the Yale experience.
I wonder by what infernal impertinence some of today’s young people would demand that their desire for a totally free education constitutes an unconditional public good for the rest of society, and that their desires and wishes to be absolved of all responsibility for their lives be regarded as an unchallenged moral imperative. The protesters rule by moral intimidation and they get away with it largely because much of the larger society has mistakenly come to feel that education is a natural right; but it is not a natural right for if it were that would mean that individuals would have to be responsible for the reproductive choices that others made and which they morally could not have undertaken as their own.
I am reminded of my own struggle as a legal immigrant in this country thirty-two years ago when I arrived here from Jamaica with $120 in my pocket. I worked for a year to save up enough money for a half a year of college, and for four years worked up to forty-five hours per week while going to school full time and surviving on four hours of sleep each night. I graduated magna cum laude and then earned a scholarship to pursued a doctorate in philosophy. Not once did I believe that the state or America owed me anything except a chance to earn a living and pay my way as I journeyed through life.
I had made a covenant with this new country I would call my permanent home. I promised that, in the name of the best within me, I would cultivate the noblest virtues in my character and use them as the only legitimate currency to purchase a life that would be worthy of an American. That there would be no obstacles that my indefatigable spirit could not overcome, and that there would be no prejudice that a philosophy of individualism, which characterized the very essence of who I was at my core, could not transcend. This covenant spoke to the stupendous achievements I vowed to accomplish by taking advantage of the plethora of opportunities that I knew would become available to me. This was a moral contract I was making with my new country. The best within me was a code of conduct that I would enact between myself and my future compatriots. It was an ethos of benevolence and goodwill that I would extend, and one that I expected to be reciprocated. The America I anticipated meeting, and the one I have come to know and love, is a country predicated on mutual exchange.
What the entitlement children of today do not realize is the sacredness of grit and commitment to decent and hard work that can be learned from life in America. Regardless of what you do, whether you scrub a toilet, practice medicine, clean someone’s bedsore, or fly a plane, dignity is something you possess inside and it is something you bring to whatever you do in your line of work. That work reaffirms your commitment to the sanctity of your life.
Your life is never cheapened by the work you do. You enhance the dignity of the work you do by imbuing it with the magnificence of your humanity, the grandeur of your soul, and the inviolability of your individuality. The work is enriched simply by your touch. That grandeur is yours. You’ve earned it.
Give up the claim to entitlement, young protesters. You’ve not earned it!
_Jason D. Hill is a professor of philosophy at DePaul University and the author of several books. His forthcoming book: We Have Overcome: An Immigrant’s Letter to the American People, will be published in July by Bombardier Books and is now available on Amazon for pre-sale order._