Let’s Get Responsible

For Andover, today was just another day, a largely unremarkable Tuesday. In context, this normality seems almost abnormal, because while we went about our daily business, America’s biggest businesses were floundering. While we worried about our grades slipping up and down, the DOW Jones plunged and rose like a seismograph, measuring the tremors of yesterday’s earthquake in Washington, also known as the bailout plan. The magnitude of this unnatural disaster was hammered home by resident economic experts Mr. Perry, Ms. Sayall and Mr. Henningsen, in a fascinating and engaging panel discussion, which left me with a few answers and a big question: how will we remember this? That the nation will remember this is doubtful. As Mr. Henningsen pointed out last night, the public’s attention span is abysmally short. In some ways, Andover’s might be as well. We may have an open campus, but pointing out the high walls of the PA bubble is the most popular of clichés. It takes a lot to shake us from our unconcerned reverie, and even more to make a permanent impression. Did students wander around so blissfully in 1929? What about in 1973? Perhaps future economic textbooks will contain Chapter 13: The 2008 Collapse of American High Finance, but right now, it doesn’t really feel like we’re living history. If the bursting of the sub-prime mortgage bubble is really so bad, why haven’t we felt the bursting of the Andover bubble? PA students still perceive the urgency of the situation more clearly than average teenagers, and apparently more clearly than the majority of the American public as well. But I believe that as Phillips Academy students we are guilty of a certain kind of indolence, apathy different from your average Dorito-munching Xbox-gaming teenager’s. Though our dorms largely insulate us from the ripples of stones thrown on Wall Street, our classrooms educate us on the causes and effects of current events. And in the chapel and in Kemper and everywhere else, visiting speakers remind us that we are the future leaders of the free world. We roll our eyes sometimes, but I think deep down we believe them. We’re smart, we’re informed, we’re talented, but we’re not earnest. We’re confident that 4th period International R.elations has armed us with the knowledge to go out and fix the world. But for the most part, we don’t feel like fixing the world until we finish our math homework and go to Harvard. We may know more, but we don’t care more. Our knowledge combined with the ivory tower quality of our lives fosters a kind of arrogance and cynicism, the kind of attitude where a serious response to the call to service is confined to ironic statements and the community service office. We’re too sure of our future influence in America, especially because we take for granted that by the time we’ve gotten our diplomas and gotten our thick envelopes, there will be an America worth influencing. This economic crisis, be it the next Great Depression or just the first time Congress actually manages to fix the economy, is an opportunity to change that. The modern interpretation of “collective sacrifice” may have been “go shopping,” President Bush’s plea after 9/11, but as Mr. Perry pointed out, consumerism is not likely to lift us out of a credit crunch. The end of institutions like Goldman Sachs, which can be described as the Andover of investment banks, was proof that one cannot play the system and never take responsibility. As the nation learns to produce as much as it consumes, it’s time for PA students to learn the same lesson as the investment bankers, and start contributing as much as we are given. This is one of those rare instances in which your textbooks may be as relevant and vital as CNN, and in which your vote, voice and contribution may actually fulfill the promise of so many ASM speakers. This is one of those rare instances when we might remember what we did a decade from now, and when you might remember what you actually learned here. A final word of praise—the economic lessons of Monday night were clearly remembered by Kevin and Kyle Ofori ’09, who set up a table in Uncommons during lunch, armed with the phone numbers of representatives who voted against the bailout plan, urging their fellow students from those states to phone in. It is that kind of entrepreneurism, independent thought and earnestness which will save the American economy, and which will make Andover the school we’ve always meant it to be. Tiffany Li is a three-year Senior from Highland Park, Ill. and Vice President of the Philomathean Society