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The American Dream

Mark Easley | Thursday, September 23, 2010

The last time I heard anyone use the term “The American Dream” in conversation, George W. Bush was still in office. This recession has really made a lot of us forget where we come from. In the America I remember from 2006, anybody could become anybody with the right attitude and plan because the America of 2006 had the same spirit and identity as the America of 1776. Freedom is a powerful tenet and it implies that even though we are all born the same and we all die the same, what we do in between is really up to us.

Great Grandpa Easley was alive at the turn of the century. He was just another American living in the heartland of Indiana. He suffered through the depression and raised a family that even sent one kid to Purdue. Great Grandpa didn’t have much in terms of money or education, but he had a little plan and made reasonable life decisions. He would see to it that his family got educated and that the daughters were married to good husbands, the best way for females to gain financial stability at the time. Although he didn’t get to the top of anything, most people would count his life as a success. I certainly will.

Grandpa Jack Easley was another American success. Growing up under Great Grandpa’s roof, Jack didn’t have much either, but he had a good head on his shoulders and strong work ethic. He graduated high school, a place his father never stepped foot, and became an electrical engineering student at Purdue. Grandpa Jack built tanks during the war, and then moved on to air conditioning and automotive electronics. Jack got married and raised a family and like his father, made sure education was top priority. All four of his kids became graduates of Purdue University, with two of them getting graduate degrees. Jack even started his own small business at one point, which he eventually sold. Jack wasn’t anything special, just another kid who made decent decisions along the way. He was never rich by any account but he was able to push himself and his family into a place where there were opportunities for the future.

Mark Easley Sr. didn’t grow up rich. Born in Indianapolis, he lived in a house with four young mouths to feed and clothe. Mark was most like Jack in his school work and endeavors. He, too, followed his father into engineering, but with a computer science major. For 20 years, Senior pioneered the personal computer industry in Silicon Valley, and was able to retire early. He didn’t inherit anything, he didn’t know anybody. He was reaping the fruits of his labor through the opportunities that were presented to him.

When I was born in February of 1990, my family had come a long way. It took three generations and over 100 years to get me, the fourth generation of Easley to have the unlimited opportunity that everyone seems to be looking for. And I wasn’t even born into that. For years I worked on my schooling, getting straight A’s year after year. While others got distracted, I always kept education as my top priority. I had to take the SAT three times before I got the score I wanted. I took the SAT IIs and six different AP tests. I didn’t have to do it, I could have always quit, but I had a plan for myself. I wanted to do something that no Easley has done before. I wanted to attend a premier university, and Notre Dame was among my choices. I’m not smarter than anyone else. I don’t even work harder than anyone else. The reason why I am where I am is because I just don’t quit on my plans. I don’t quit on myself by making poor decisions.

The American Dream is not about rags to riches in a lifetime. It’s about sustained progress over generations, where the next has more than the last, where the values of hard work and family and education are passed on. It’s a long road and people all have their struggles, but by default, living in America is your best chance of making it in the long term. It’s not about intelligence or money. It’s about taking good risks for personal betterment and not endangering your success with bad life choices. Our country’s middle class is filled with family histories similar to mine. If you want to have an American Dream, look to what others have done to achieve it and learn from their example. Knowledge, education, and determination really are the cornerstones of success.

Mark Easley is a junior. He can be reached at measley@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.