“You can be anything you want to be” is one of childhood’s mantras. 

Most teachers ask their students what they want to be when they grow up, and every student answers with his or her dreams. 

What changes between your second-grade career project and picking your major sophomore year at college that makes our choices so different?

Money. You probably don’t have enough money in the bank to pay for your Ivy League tuition, you probably don’t have enough money to be invited to Prince William’s birthday party, and you probably don’t have enough money to follow Lady Gaga’s tour bus across the country. 

You can check rich lawyer, princess and pop star off of your possible career list.

My sister has been in love with Boston since we were toddlers on the swan boats. Now that she is a senior in high school, most of her small-talk conversations revolve around her future. My sister wants to be a pediatrician. Whenever she says, “Boston University,” people laugh and roll their eyes. People throw around ideas about tuition, debt and “maybe for grad school.” She usually smiles and nods. Their words do not make a dent in the little girl who played in the grass of Boston Common and knew where she wanted to go to school.

Too many people go after their dreams only to let their degrees fade on a piece of paper. There are engineers working in the Kmart customer service department. There are people with degrees in English literature working at McDonald’s. There are parents leaving school 10 credits short of their degrees to save money on day care.

I want to be a writer and a teacher when I’m older. People tell me all the time that I’ll have no money and no future. My favorite was being told that I’d end up on welfare. Despite this, I’m still the little girl who fell in love with words and history. I remember going to the library and finding the spot where my last name would fit.

My grandmother and I were driving one day years ago when the man in the radio started telling us about some archaeological dig. My grandmother listened intently and then declared, “When I grow up I’m going to be an archaeologist.” This one, inconsequential sentence of hers has stayed with me for years. Without trying to, my grandmother taught me that you’re never too old to have a dream. 

Think of the garbage collectors. Think of young people stuck in a gas station all night. Think of the college students falling behind in class because they spend all their time bussing tables. Think of the teenager just beginning to realize that money will decide her future. Think of the children who don’t know yet. They are our rock stars, our artists, our royalty and our future. 

There is a piece of paper hanging in the cafeteria at my school that reads, “You might be making money but if your heart isn’t singing while you work it does not matter in the least.” 

I’m willing to keep saving quarters and tighten my belt to make my dreams come true, reasonable or not. The first five years of life are used to bolster young people’s dreams. They then spend the next 20 learning to accept reality. 

When asked, “What do teenagers do?” I thought about what I do, what my friends do, and what other kids do. I kept coming back to the future. Every teen thinks about the future. 

Do me a favor, promise me that you will never stop chasing your dreams and promise me that you will never stop dreaming. Based on the feeling I’m getting writing this, I can assure you that dreams are worth the price and effort.

Katie Ahearn is a sophomore at Unatego Junior-Senior High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/teentalk

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