“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door…”
….I recall first hearing these words from Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” during a fifth grade history lesson. Back at that time, my new burgeoning mind, then being shaped by the most careful hands of great elementary school teachers, could not conceptualize the meaning inside of the poetry. Hearing the words only caused me to imagine ports of weary travelers who braved through great danger and risk to arrive upon Ellis Island, at the golden gate of a new world that promised “opportunity.” It wasn’t until my trek through high school, that I had matured enough to envision Emma’s words more metaphorically.
I was one of the many who were tempest-tossed, on pilgrimage through the ocean that is the public school education system. No early access to SAT preparation courses, no advice on what organizations to join in order to have application fees waivered for college enrollment and very little to no guidance counseling to serve as a compass for overall college preparation from freshman year to graduation. Coming from very low socioeconomic status, many of us, like those immigrating towards better opportunity in the 1800’s, felt a great need to acquire a new freedom through education as our parents had encouraged us to do without any direct experience of their own.
Through grace, I was accepted into a state college in the North Country that offered me a spot in their Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). Little did I know as a first generation college student that I would be welcomed into a community of counselors, staff, and students carrying the traditions of historically low-income as well as disproportionately educated citizens of diverse background, who pushed for equal opportunity education throughout the civil rights era. Opportunity education through EOP became a sturdy foundation that equipped me with discipline, preparation, support systems (both academic & financial) and above all critical thinking elements essential for any student hoping to reach the highest educational level of being autodidactic. With the help of such a program I was able to achieve many successes, such as completing graduate school and being awarded by the Alpha Kappa Delta Honor Society of Sociology.
Opportunity programs gave to me and many like me all that we had gone without for over twelve years of schooling, and that was both the chance and the tools to preemptively prepare the building of our future to our satisfaction through the pursuit of happiness, life, and liberty. Education is much more than the four walls of any classroom. Education is also the knowledge of resource, the gaining of access and the sustenance of a diverse yet equal populace working together to overcome diverse challenges through shared experiences and perspectives. Opportunity Programming in higher education is a microcosmic example of how our world should work. It is “the lamp beside the golden door” of education that must be made available at any and all college institutions.
Opportunities Programs Counselor, Professional Tutor