My two years at Andover have meant much more to me than walking the same green lawns on Commencement morning as thousands of bright and incredible students have before me. They have meant something much greater; greater, even, than all I have learned, the passions I have discovered, and the people who have inspired me every step of the way during my time here. They have meant fulfilling the dreams that inspired every one of the sacrifices my family made to send me here. It would be impossible, and unjust, to reflect on my time at Andover without remembering the sacrifices of these individuals.
My grandparents would never have been able to imagine my life at Andover as I live it each day. They and my parents were raised as farmers in the mountains of northern China, as were generations of my family before them. Andover’s majestic stone pillars, the picturesque Bell Tower, the myriad of courses and books and technology and ideas; everything we see, feel and take for granted would have been as foreign to my grandparents as the poverty, grueling labor and starvation they faced would be to most among us.
My father’s family could barely afford two meals of bread and porridge a day; his parents never had the means to pay for his schooling, though it cost only about $5 per year. My grandmother was determined for him to receive an education. She had not been able to support her daughters, who had both dropped out and married early, but she would stop at nothing to give her youngest child the most she could. She worked whatever jobs she could find, collecting roots, cooking, cleaning and even begging from neighbors, who themselves owned nothing to their names, in order to pay 12 years of his tuition, all while raising a family in rural China.
No matter what the pressures, my grandmother refused to let herself rest, ensuring that my father studied into the night, listening as he copied math equations and pouring over American textbooks to make up for the fact that his own teacher could not actually speak English. The image of her begging, even through the cold mountain winters, with her bound, broken feet will always haunt me.
My parents themselves were no strangers to sacrifice. They starved throughout their childhoods, surviving on scraps while working to support their families. After this upbringing, which, for my father, also included watching his own father pass away from a painful and debilitating disease, my parents found four years of struggle at their universities.
They could hardly keep up in high-tech classrooms, following advanced curriculums after spending 12 years studying in run-down buildings with under-qualified teachers. Their lives since they graduated (my father as the president of his student body) and found their way to the United States have been a constant flow of stories, tales of foreignness, of the struggle of an immigrant family trying desperately to find their place in a new world.
My graduation and, furthermore, my time at Andover are not, and will never be, for me – they are for my family. For my grandmother, who never gave up her belief in my father, that he would break the mold generations before him never could. What an astonishing, incomparable woman – her love has never failed to inspire me. For my parents, who have lived lives of sacrifice, scarcity and so much bravery to carry me to where I now find myself.
Though my parents have found success, after a lifetime of striving, and raised my brother and I with a level of privilege they never had the chance to experience, my graduation is an affirmation of everything they have given up. They can be at peace.
As students, we have a tendency to view our time at Andover as a sort of sentence. “Four more years!” we shout in the faces of the youngest. We often revel as our last month approaches. I am, without a doubt, guilty of this myself.
But sometimes, we also need to take a step back and think about how damn lucky we are to be here. We may take ourselves too seriously sometimes – we are adolescents, after all – but often, we do not take ourselves seriously enough. We can forget how significant it is to be in a school as unique as ours. I will always carry with me the gifts of my parents and grandmother. And I am sure I am not the only student here with such a story. So let us all celebrate our graduation and the conclusion of our time here, but let us also reflect on the sacrifices others have given us to help us build our Andover experiences.
Dan Wang is a two-year Senior from West Windsor, NJ.