I am not the founder of a nonprofit organization who has a heart-wrenching story to tell you about how I have helped countless impoverished people have a better life. I am not a world leader, making great changes in laws to help end corruption so that we can apply wasted resources to areas that desperately need them. I am not a great inventor who has come up with a way to help the world’s poorest have reliable sanitation systems so a village’s people can have clean drinking water. But I am part of a generation of people, who like me, have also not yet done any of these amazing achievements to end extreme poverty for 1.4 billion people.
We are known as the Millennial generation, and it has been said that we are tech-savvy, family-centric and achievement-oriented. We are said to be confident, ambitious and optimistic. We are said to appreciate being kept in the loop and that we seek new challenges and are not afraid to question authority.
This last point is what stands out to me. Our generation has been identified as a group of 70 million people who are not afraid to question authority. That is a powerful concept: 70 million people who are not afraid to rise up and make a change against all odds. Look at what has happened already: We are a generation that started the social media revolution that led Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak to step down so the Egyptian people could finally have a voice. We are a generation that, through unprecedented young voter turnout, helped to elect the first black president of the United States of America, even though most people in older generations did not expect to live to see it happen. And we can’t accept it when people tell us, “There is no hope to change the way things are,” or “What can you do?” or “You are only one person. You can’t make a difference, and you can’t end poverty.” But on this campus we stood up against that kind of thinking.
Western Carolina University students packed 36,288 meals that were used in crisis situations in developing countries around the world, raised $3,000 for the American Cancer Society and another $1,060 for poverty-relief agencies. Students collected 1,167 pairs of shoes for the Nashville-based charity Soles4Souls and participated in a Live Below the Line challenge where students committed to live on $1.50 per day for five days to raise awareness and money to help combat global poverty. Through this, $2,730 was pledged to support the humanitarian organization CARE. And WCU students secured 1,000 signatures out of a global 25,000 that led to $118 million pledged to eradicate polio from this Earth.
The best thing, though, is that all this was achieved in just the fall semester alone. But how much more can you do to end extreme poverty after earning your college degree?
As I prepare to graduate, like many of you, I ask, “Where do I go from here?” I know I have sat in a few classes and thought, “When will I ever use this?” But I believe this is the beauty of a liberal arts education for all of you graduating and for myself: We truly do not know how what we have learned during our years at Western Carolina University will end up changing the entire course of our lives. A college education is not simply about this piece of paper that we receive. It is about using what we have learned and actually applying it to every aspect our lives. You never know where you might end up because of your education. You do not know what great effect your years at Western will have on your life and your ability to change the world until much later. Let’s use our knowledge to be the generation that ends extreme global poverty. We are the generation built for it, and we have already had such a good start right here in Cullowhee, N.C.