Dear Mitt Romney,
I am a first-generation college graduate from a family of modest means. I am in no way implying that we are poor. In fact, I find myself feeling quite grateful for all that we do have. I was lucky enough to be raised by both parents, in a good home, in a safe neighborhood. And these wonderful parents of mine encouraged me to study hard, and work harder, so that I could get a college education. They never doubted my abilities and never questioned my goals.
That is why I started simultaneously working and going to school at the age of sixteen. For six years, even though I was working hard, I always got my tax returns. And, every year, I waited anxiously for them, because I used that money to pay for things that I needed, such as textbooks for college. I learned this strong work ethic from my father, who works like nobody I have ever met. He sometimes works twelve, thirteen, or fourteen hour days to make sure that my two sisters and I have never wanted for anything. He made many sacrifices over the years so that we would be able to live a comfortable life. My father, nor anyone in my family for that matter, has ever considered himself a victim. But, when it was time for me to go to college, we relied heavily on low-interest government loans and Pell Grants. Higher education is an enormous financial burden, and without this government assistance, it would have been impossible for me to get the quality education that I had worked so hard for. Without these programs, I would have never been able to graduate from one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country. And, when I graduated four months ago, I saw my father cry for the second time in my entire life.
But, it is not just about my future, or the future of my own family, it is also about the future of millions of Americans. One of the most valuable lessons that I learned from my college education is that in the United States exists this ‘myth of meritocracy,’ this belief that you earn what you work for. It is this idea that merit and hard work are directly related to the success you will have in your life. But, what many people fail to recognize is that huge discrepancies exist between distributions of wealth in the United States. And, that the differences are often based on factors which we cannot control; race, gender, or the economic success of one’s family. An absence of social welfare programs makes it even more impossible for individuals born into unfavorable circumstances to change their lives. I cannot begin to understand their burden or struggle, as I am privileged even more than I can understand, simply because I have white skin. I cannot imagine what it is like to live in a society which subconsciously discriminates against them, a society which works harder to disadvantage them than it does to help them.
And when I finally earn enough money, I will gladly pay my taxes. I will pay my taxes so that high school students can dream about going to college, so that hard-working people like my father can actually retire comfortably, so that people living in our country can have basic human rights, such as healthcare, so that struggling families do not go hungry.
I am part of the 47% and I believe not in the government’s responsibility to help me, but in my responsibility to help those in need, and to care for my fellow Americans.
Cassie Dutton is a recent graduate of The College of Wooster, where she earned her bachelor's degree in Anthropology. She is currently spending a year as a volunteer English teacher for high school students in Northern Thailand. When she moves back to the United States, she plans to pursue higher education so that she can spend the rest of her life using her resources and talents to help others.