I was lucky enough to attend an elite boarding school for my high school years. I did my best to fit in, but there were daily reminders that I did not quite belong. One of those reminders came during my sophomore year when we were reading the Great Gatsby. We were discussing East Egg versus West Egg and all I could think was the fact that if I were at all represented in this story, I would be living in “No Egg.”
Regardless of my juvenile disdain to this book, I remember outlining one passage for class discussion. And while my heavy-handed introduction of the quote fell flat in a classroom of kids that “loved” the book, it has stayed with me ever since. In the novel, Nick Carraway, the narrator, is talking about some advice he got from his father. He says:
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he
told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’ ”
Today we have written about socioeconomic class. And though all the data suggests that the middle class is shrinking, we, like over seventy-percent of the country, all somehow perched ourselves somewhere in the middle-class. More importantly, all of our stories despite where we land, are a testament to the fact that “people in this world haven't had the same advantages” as we have.
Life is sweet in the middle. There are hard times when money's tight but overall I know there will be some kind of food on my table. There was a time when we were poor, the difference is crystal clear. I’ve had the privilege to attend private institutions and travel which some people never get to do in their lifetime. Yes, my mother still tells me we don’t have money for extras in the supermarket. Yes, she sends me links to discounted versions of shoes or clothes that I want. It’s all part of the middle-class life we live.
Growing up going to a private boarding school as a daughter of a faculty member always made me feel as if I was the “poor kid.” Everything from the clothes I wore, down to the activities my friends would want me to be apart of. Back then I thought that money solved everything. My experience since then has led me to believe that like most things, money can’t provide self-worth or happiness, but it can give you power. How I choose that power, that’s what defines me, not the money itself.
Drew, Upper Middle
Growing up in such a diverse socio-economic environment, I learned very quickly not to flaunt what I had. I was content letting people misjudge my Aeropostale shirts as less than their Abercrombie attire. My parents carried all of the financial load of college for me and I graduated with no debt. Dave Ramsey was a big name in our household growing up and influenced all of my parent’s major spending habits as well as my own ideas about debt, credit cards, and investments. I would surely be in debt and not experiencing as much economic freedom without those crucial lessons.
Melissa, Upper Middle
When I was 6, we moved to California, and 6 months later, my house burned down. We lost everything. I wore clothes my classmates had donated, and once at school, a girl snapped at me to take off her stuff. My parents said no a lot, or “when we have money.” Eventually, we recovered, but I was never the same. I promised myself that my kids would never have to shop at Goodwill, they could go to summer camps if they wanted, and they could have the shoes they wanted, not just the ones on clearance. We’re comfortable now, but the fear is always there.
Pablo, Upper Middle Class
Being a part of this group means understanding that I have been very lucky in my life that my family could provide me with much more than I needed. I could always go on vacations and be enrolled in extracurricular activities that allowed me to explore other countries and cultures. As an adult, I try to help others that are not in such a privileged position. This is a hard topic for me to explore because many times I feel like there is not much that I can do.
Dolph, Upper Middle
In my youth, we were low on resources and options but high on work ethic, expectations, self-belief, and faith. Maximizing education (formal and self) wasn’t optional for me; it was the fulcrum that changed my trajectory. I have learned in exceptional places, but I am still paying off the loans. I own a dependable car; no car payment. And the bank only owns, roughly, half my house. I want for very little, and need nothing I don’t have. I’ve earned what I have, but not by myself; only the delusional are self-made. Thinking outside of ourselves closes the socioeconomic gap.
Jonny, Upper Middle
I come from an upper-middle-class family. While I’ve worked a summer job ever since I was of age, I was never working because I had to. I have never had to worry about money, but I have lived in excess throughout my life. If the entire world lived the same way I did, we would need something like five Earths to sustain the resources being used. I’m privileged in that I never questioned if I would be able to afford college, and it was always talked about like something I had to do whether I wanted it or not.
Leslie, Middle Class
My mother and I went from living in Section-8 Housing to a Jersey suburb. I attended a private prep school and now attend a private liberal arts college. We followed the American Dream model of economic mobility almost exactly. I didn’t know being middle-class would come with so much guilt, though. We’re not rich, but we are more comfortable than a lot of people in the world - in the country. And it’s hard for me to fully enjoy the little luxuries we’ve gotten over the years knowing others aren’t having their basic needs met. And I wonder if the guilt will ever temper with time.
Kara, Upper Middle
I grew up with yearly vacations, travel sports, and shopping trips. In high school, I understood there to be “rich,” “poor,” and then a vast “middle class” that I resided in. A college sociology class broadened my perspective to how impactful, and raised, my seat was on the unequal playing field; this lesson was dampened by my jokes with roommates about being the “poor ones” compared to the Cadillacs on campus. Now, with no debt, ample savings, and little stress about money, I’ve come to realize how my upper-middle-class upbringing has set me up for the same success. Check out Kara’s blog MyQuestionLife.com
Growing up my parents were middle class and both of them worked two jobs. We grew up in the Bronx N.Y. and most of the people around us were not in the same class. As a kid I never really cared, I was just happy. I went to school with rich White kids until 5th grade. Going to their homes for the day was when I realized I lived completely different. My grandparents lived across the street from us and they were more upper-middle class. The way they lived is what molded me into how I am today.