I used to love thinking about the future.
The future used to feel like fresh air. Like wide open fields, dotted with wildflowers. Like fireworks at the end of a perfect summer night. To think about the future was to feel limitless, to imagine the life I wanted rising up around me.
I daydreamed, yes, but I also knew to take action. Like others, I was taught from a young age that bricks do not lay themselves. Fields are not tilled for you. An education, it was said, is the keystone to a life of joy and comfort.
I set to work. Beginning in high school, I joined clubs, I volunteered, I took every AP class my school offered. I applied to colleges — the fancy ones founded by colonizers, the ones that promised I would never know pain again. I attended one of these schools and earned near-perfect grades while working part time to supplement my scholarships. My diploma cost me $70,000 a year.
I didn’t stop there. I worked more, I studied more. I went to law school, where the promise of financial security, of success and significance, are used to hypnotize anyone with ambition. I attended a school where 90% of my tuition was covered by scholarships. Still, for three years I borrowed the maximum amount in student loans allowed by the federal government. It was barely enough. I sent pleading, shame-fueled emails to school officials, begging them for the crumbs I needed to pay my overdue rent, to fill my empty refrigerator.
With every step, I dug myself deeper. I deluded myself into thinking that, even as the walls of the pit rose up around me, I was only growing closer to my goal. Soon, I would strike gold. I would spring up, up, up, and directly onto the balcony of the ivory tower I was promised.
I don’t like to think about the future as much now.
I think about the small things, sure: next week’s episode of Only Murders in the Building, the first sip of morning coffee, the sweaters I’ll be wearing in another month or two. But to imagine my life at 60? 70? 80? I see my father, who at 78 years old, still works full time to claw back the sacrifices he made for me and my brother to have a better life. “Don’t worry, the debt will disappear when I die,” he told me recently. He sounded cheerful. I see Betty Ann, a 91-year-old woman who today owes the federal government $329,309.69 in student loans for a degree she earned in the 80’s. I see the archetypal, jaded antihero, leaning against a grimy brick wall and flicking ash from their hand-rolled cigarette: “You’re born alone, you work your whole life for nothing, and then you die.” Birth, work, then death. There is only one stop left on my life’s trajectory.
$198,000 of that number hangs over my head. We lie awake at night, me and millions of others, feeling the interest tick up another penny, another dollar, with every useless breath. Though the last two and half years have provided a brief respite for our bank accounts, our hearts and minds remain in the grip of a government hellbent on leaving our futures in the shadows.
Now, once again, the federal government has waited until the stroke of midnight to decide whether or not student loan payments will resume after being frozen due to the Covid-19 state of emergency. I want to scream, but there is so little energy left to fight back after falling victim to the greatest con in history. We were told this was the only way, and now we will never be in full control of our lives again.
My parents recently sent me my diplomas. After I graduated law school, they had both my bachelor’s degree as well as my J.D. framed. “It’s museum quality,” my mom gushed, while I cringed at the expense. In their eyes, I’ve done it: everything they couldn’t. They speak of my hard work and dedication as though it is in the past, as though I have paid my dues and it is time to reap the rewards. I want nothing more than to make them proud, but it’s difficult to see the years ahead of me as anything but a death sentence.
I am tired of making the case based on numbers, assuaging the fears of the one percent with carefully-researched arguments that student debt cancellation will bolster the economy, promote job growth, and massage the weary muscles of the capitalist beast that dragged us here in the first place. I don’t want to give a PowerPoint Presentation on why I deserve to live. This is a plea to emotion. To anyone with a soul who can feel the walls of the world trembling, debating whether there’s anything left to fight for, or if it’s better just to get the collapse over with.
I want my future — our futures — to be filled with wonder once more. I want us to live the lives we want, not the lives demanded of us by the shackles of our debts. This future is not only possible, it is necessary. The consequences of our government failing us on this front are far more disastrous than the short-term logistical issues.
I will fall to my knees, begging, so you don’t have to: Please. Please cancel student debt. All of it.
It’s the only way forward.