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Age of the empowerment anthem

Viewpoint Columnist | Monday, October 14, 2013

One need not venture too far from a radio, Spotify playlist or SYR venue to hear the bombastic chorus and synths of Katy Perry’s now-ubiquitous-to-the-point-of-making-me-sick hit single “Roar.” When you shout along to the lyrics the meaning of the song becomes your own – you are a champion, they’re going to hear you roar. The track is a classic case of the inspirational empowerment anthems that have squarely wedged themselves in pop radio playlists from the likes of P!nk, Lady GaGa, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson to others. Without a doubt, songs have inspired this writer as well, but in a way Katy probably wouldn’t be happy about.
Uplifting songs are harmless enough in and of themselves – the pop singer wants money and wants to make her fans feel good, so everyone wins. However, when viewed within the larger context of the environment in which young people currently live, the popularity of these songs reflects a larger problem.
One of the many words used to describe children and young adults in the modern day is “coddled” – we are told, genuinely and frequently, that we are smart, kind, motivated, intelligent and talented. We can probably all think of the handful of once-gold, now dusty sports and academic trophies labeled “participation” sitting in our closets back home. And from the day our admissions statistics are released, we arrive at this school primed for the greatness we experienced throughout twelve years of formative education. We learn to accept this constant stream of praise from others, making it increasingly easy to lose an understanding of what it means to actually work at accomplishing something substantial and perhaps more importantly, how to deal with being average or even failing.
This problem plagues some of the most talented college students out there – even the ones at Notre Dame. Our student body comes from all over the country and the world, from all walks of life. Students are shocked when they come here and encounter fellow students who are smarter, stronger, faster, prettier and whatever-er than they are, finding themselves knocked down a few rungs on the competitive ladder. Feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt follow, with many first year students (this writer included) at one point or another asking themselves the question, “What on God’s green Earth am I doing here?!” The realization that you may not be the brightest bulb in the ridiculously luminescent bunch that is the University of Notre Dame comes as a harsh realization for some.
But, as with most medicines, drudging through the bitter taste leads to an essential outcome.
I’ve been a tutor for the past four years at places including the Learning Resource Center here at ND, meaning that I’ve dealt with a few disillusioned and discouraged students. Regardless of their reason for seeking help, what I find to be a common struggle for my students both here and at home is that the idea of hitting any sort of brick wall academically is a novel concept. I find that they often times expect me – the “smart” and “qualified” tutor who is being paid to teach them chemistry – to look down on them or treat them differently because I’ve presumably never been in their shoes. When I tell them that I struggled myself with the very same course material, they oftentimes stare back at me with the “You’re-just-saying-that-to-make-me-feel-better” look. But in reality, getting my first chemistry exam grade shattered my preconceived expectations for success in the course. I was presented with two very distinct routes – either sulk and admit defeat, or find the route to eventually succeed. I took the latter road (which was not an easy one to travel, mind you) and through hard work and dedication, was able to eventually overcome this obstacle well enough to tutor the subject for others.
It was only after relaying this story to those struggling that I eventually understood the vast significance of my journey through the depths of CHEM 10171. I did not succeed because of the work of others. I did not succeed because someone else taught me how to. And, most of all, I did not succeed because Katy Perry told me I was a firework and I could show them what I’m worth. I succeeded because I took a good look inside myself, evaluated my choices and realized the impacts each choice would have in the long run. Granted, some hurdles are harder to clear than others, but that doesn’t mean they’re insurmountable. We all have within us the ability to make our own choices and find our own inner strength, but no one is going to do it for you.
So that being said, is this whole column hypocritical?
I guess that’s for you to decide.