2009

Writing Contest: Runner-up

Opportunity

Jeff Schumacher, Hoover High School, North Canton, OH, (Teacher: Rashmi Chopra)

Everyday, when I come home from school, I pick up the mail at the end of my drive, let out my dog, and turn on CNBC. For the fifteen minutes I have between school and tennis, I watch “Closing Bell” anxiously listening to Maria Bartiromo and Dylan Ratigan discuss what moved the markets that day. Today, it was renewed concern that the rating agency Moodys, would downgrade General Electric debt causing them to lose their AAA rating.

At 3:00 p.m., in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, a clock begins counting down the minutes and seconds until the closing bell. My breath shortens, my pulse races. Time itself seems to stand still as I wait to see the collective value of the United States as displayed in the thirty randomly chosen stocks we know as the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Then a few seconds later, I see what I have been waiting for. I see that the Dow is down over 200 points or close to three percent with the S&P 500 and NASDAQ not far behind. Slowly, my breathing and heart rate return to normal, as this downward movement has become the norm.

We, as Americans, have used the stock market, and its seemingly random, volatile movements as an indication of not only the United States overall economic health, but also our collective emotional health. And just by glancing at a one-year chart of the Dow, and seeing its seemingly endless vertical drop, I would say our emotional stability is also in great need of a bail out.

But who can blame Americans for worrying? Like nearly everyone else, both my parents’ IRAs and 401(k)s are down nearly fifty percent. It was only a year ago that they both talked about retiring within a few years, but things have changed. The wealth they have lost, they may never recover. This recession has been a wake-up call, a realization that America has been on an unsustainable course for economic expansion. This recession has been a personal wake-up call, a realization that wealth is a relative term and that I can no longer rely on my parents and their charity as a source of sustainable income before, during or after college. Perhaps, most importantly, this recession has forced me to reevaluate my college plans. Up until now, I have lived with the understanding that if I worked hard and did what I was supposed to, I would be able to pay for any college education. However, this is no longer the case.

That idea, the idea that if one works hard and does everything right, one still might not be able to accomplish a goal because of some external financial situation caused by the recklessness of others, is a dangerous precedent to set. It is a counter-intuitive idea, but one that we must understand as a realistic possibility that comes along with the difficult situation we now face.

However, I welcome the challenge and uncertainty the future brings. Already, I have begun budgeting future expenses, talking to my dad about the importance of credit and learning to live on a limited income. The importance of saving cannot be understated. It is unfortunate then, that nearly seventy percent of the United States’ Gross Domestic Product is made of consumer spending. The only way for the United States and the global community to recover from this crisis is to spend. But, neither I, nor a majority of Americans are willing to spend in this tough economic climate. Like everything else in life, a balance must be found and equilibrium must be reached.

Recently, I talked with my grandma, now ninety-three, about her growing up during the Great Depression. She was a junior in high school when the depression started. She would tell me about how she and her family would search for pennies in their house to afford a loaf of bread for dinner. For my grandma’s graduation present, her sisters put their money together and purchased the shoes she wore to her graduation. I know, the challenges I face in the future will never be as great as those she faced then. Because my grandma and grandpa started their own successful business, and sacrificed for my father and my father sacrificed for me, I will have a better life. The United States will not enter another Great Depression. Times have changed, the government has learned from its past and Americans understand that no challenge is too great, no adversity too difficult, for us, as Americans, to overcome.

If there is anything that my generation understands, it is how to overcome adversity. Already, in my short eighteen years of existence, my peers and I have lived through three wars (two of which were in Iraq), two recessions, $4.00 a gallon gasoline and the Cleveland Indians lose the World Series twice. However, we have also lived through countless technological advancements, we have elected the first African-American President of the United States and we, as a generation, have already become the most philanthropic generation of all time. We have been blessed to live and participate in one of the most consequential time periods of all time.

But we, as a generation, must also learn to sacrifice. We must learn to put off what we cannot afford and be patient with both our finances and our time. Both of these items are precious and limited resources that must be used wisely. We must also understand that although this financial situation may have been caused by the lack of due diligence and irresponsibility of certain financial institutions, some on Wall Street, it was only a response to our demand for higher profit margins and greater returns. We, as Americans, are at least partly responsible for the situation we now face, but we also have the power to change and fix our problem.

Sometimes, when I don’t have to rush off to tennis or other extracurricular activities, I stop to watch the final few minutes of the trading day and hear the closing bell. The camera slowly pans around, displaying the cluttered floor that is the NYSE. It seems as though the world will end with the ringing of the closing bell. But the world doesn’t end; the bell that rings simply means the ending of another day. Tomorrow at 9:30 a.m., there will be an opening bell, an opportunity to begin anew. This opening bell presents a challenge to everyone. It is a challenge to look forward, towards the future and to learn from previous mistakes. This simple bell, challenges us, to behave differently, to think rationally and act responsibly.

Composition has been lightly edited.