A dream is a paradisiac island of the future floating placidly on the ocean of our hearts. An encapsulated rendition of a life not yet lived, but unbound by the imagination of one´s mind. A dream is born when the future first reigns over the present, ruling our actions according to the earnest desire for future redemption, foregoing blind temptations of immediate gratification. They usually come to us at night, providing the hope that sustains a new tomorrow. But they also invade our days, providing the strength to withstand present sorrows. Dreams are a source of life, a fountain of hope in times of trouble. A guiding light that gives us purpose, when surrounding darkness our lives reduces to rubble. My first dream came to me as a child. When I was in fourth grade, my uncle asked me what I dreamt for the future.
“Attending university in America!”, I valiantly cried.
“Now that is what I call a dream alright! Your parents could never afford it!”, he said laughing.
He was right. My parents could never afford it. They were geologists living in Brazil and the vast majority of our household income went into my education so that I could study at an American School founded decades ago to serve the needs of expatriates. Despite being paid in the perennially devalued Brazilian currency, my parents paid school tuition charged in dollars. This meant that our family lived on a very tight budget. We took family trips only to nearby locations and our family car was a white VW Beetle, a veteran of many years of use, but just as sturdy as it was talkative.
Many times my parents sternly warned me about our predicament. Education would be the only legacy they would ever leave my brother and I. We should use our time wisely and apply ourselves while the sun was in our favor. One day, it would fall from the sky. We should apply ourselves while there was light. And so did I.
I dedicated myself mind, body and soul, studying with all my might. But academic life was not an imposition, it was a pleasure in its own right. Though knowledge was divided into separate subjects, we covered a wide palette of human understanding. Lessons were taught and then tests were applied, only later I learned the opposite was true of life. School provided the freedom to explore the world at large, preparing for life around me, and a future at once so bright. A future governed by laws by which I would have to abide, so I yearned for a say in what was wrong and what was right. Not all my questions answered, but every book, every teacher brought some new insight. The windows always open as our classrooms soaked the light.
Physical education was the only class I abhorred. Many years would have to pass before my body grew strong and sore. In the meantime, the library was the refuge where I came to rest. The air conditioning was always welcoming and books, of all my companions, were the very best. They took me places I could not afford to go. They gave me a taste of honey that my imagination overflowed. There were magazines I could read nowhere else to be found, so much information I felt lost amid a crowd. The present was so inviting that past days were rarely entertained. I was fighting for the future by fighting for today.
The battlefield was an idyllic school that provided vast expanses of greenery, but so much more. It provided the freedom of small classrooms and close contact with teachers that had time to entertain questions, and provide answers that could reach us. The freedom to have our voices heard and hear the opinions of our peers. Coming together as one when a conclusion finally appeared. The freedom to express ourselves creatively, undertaking projects that truly spanned, the full gamut of our imagination while understanding the world at hand. The freedom to meet students from countries far and wide, several nations represented, between cultures no divide. The freedom to disagree when what the book said was wrong. Of all the lessons learned, freedom was the most important one.
This is what I believed my education to be: freedom from the enslavement that only ignorance can bring. It paved the road to heaven while sparing me from hell. Knowledge never just a means, but an end in itself. This is what attending university in America symbolized to me: the freedom to learn and the freedom to dream, no greater concern held in higher esteem. Only then could I apply all I had learned, molding the world around me into the dream adults spurned. The coldness of the world I had already seen, raised in a country of disparities so extreme. While my family so dearly struggled to keep me in school, others lived in spacious homes all complete with pools. The haves will never know the alienation have nots feel, when an abyss divides men of equal height and equal skill. Why should some have all while the poor live in such great pain? I related to the homeless, but voiced concerns in vain. Greater social justice remained yet another dream, postponed for the day when education would all redeem.
The struggles before me were mountainous at best. Though I excelled in every class, overcoming every test, there was a bridge I could not cross, a price not paid in sweat. My dream had a price tag, which my family could not afford. I had crossed a violent ocean and was now so close to shore, but the final steps to be taken still required so much more. A mentor then appeared who taught me how to fight, the battle for which I trained my entire life. He laid down the strategy I would have to follow, to vanquish the enemy that made me feel so hollow. He guided my footsteps and set me on my way, I fought the war, but his strategy won the day. America had finally answered my very own clarion call, and I was now bound for Princeton with a scholarship in the fall. He who dreams of freedom must for freedom all dare to do. Having fought so many battles, this much I know is true. Freedom´s most important lesson is always taught in school.