The Public Square

Andrea Park on “The Straitjacket Called Privilege


Remember, with great power comes great responsibility," said the dying Uncle Ben to young Peter Parker. Yes, Parker was eventually successful in applying these immortal words to his veiled occupation as Spider-Man, superhero extraordinaire, but how can, and should, Uni students take Uncle Ben's proverb to heart?

Let's face the facts. A number of Uni High students are either well-to-do, very well-to-do, or very, very well-to-do. Being children of doctors, professors, businessmen, or lawyers does, in fact, put us in the very upper crust of the world socioeconomically. It's obvious that more money equals more opportunities. What's not so obvious to such teenagers is what to do with this privilege.

A pair of underwear I got from Victoria's Secret's Pink collection had the phrase "Prestigious and Privileged" in fancy gold letters printed on them. My underwear, surprisingly, brings up a question that many Uni students face at least once in their high school careers: Because I am privileged, is it my duty - my responsibility - to be elite?

Personally, being one of the privileged Uni-goers, I feel obligated, or responsible, to do my best and try to be the best, which may account for my extreme overachiever attitude and approach to life.

It's a combination of some parental pressure and internal drive - I was lucky enough to be born into a family that doesn't have to worry about money, so I should do something great with the blessings that come along with it. ("Something great," of course, being defined as getting into a super elite college and eventually becoming a respectable, moneymaking professional.)

But lately I've realized that one-hit pop wonder Stacie Orrico actually had something to say when she sang, "There's gotta be more to life." Because I was given opportunities that the average child would never dream of having, do I have to follow the path that leads to retirement at the age of 58? Taking it a step further, do I have to do, or be, anything extraordinary at all?

It's not like I'm going to drop out of school tomorrow and become a Parisian bohemian, but I'm realizing that for my entire life my eyes have been dead-set on being elite, and I'm wondering what it would be like if I didn't have these ambitions. Wouldn't life be much easier and maybe a little bit more enjoyable?

As a part of being privileged, students at Uni subject themselves to an intense lifestyle. Not only do we have to worry about "normal teenager" stuff, like peer pressure and fitting in, we also have to worry about maintaining a certain GPA, getting into a good college, and ultimately being "successful."

Being "successful" in our economically well-off and socially intellectual society has already been defined as being a high-paid professional. So being privileged, I feel as if it's my responsibility to become one of these powerhouses.

But what if my definition of success doesn't align with our society's definition? Does it make me a failure?

What if I want to become a club team swim coach? My Aquachief swim coaches are extremely positive influences on the lives of the girls on my team, but they are hardly paid above minimum wage. I would certainly not categorize them as failures. If I were to follow in their footsteps, does that fulfill my responsibility as a privileged person? I think most would deem me as someone who never reached her potential.

So maybe our entire elite and privileged culture shouldn't be so rigid about its definition of success. Maybe kids who are born into this culture shouldn't feel pressured to perform and pursue the professional endeavors of their parents. And most importantly, we shouldn't feel ashamed of doing, or becoming, something that our society considers a failure.

Perhaps Uncle Ben is right in saying, "With great power comes great responsibility." But we should keep in mind that this "responsibility" should be a very fluid concept.