“Social Practices” by Lili Weber

Posted: June 15, 2012 in Vol. 1: Spring Essays 2012

Dear Hannah,

I have been thinking about you a lot lately. I can’t believe you are getting ready to graduate high school and more importantly turn 18. You are no longer my little cousin, but instead a smart and amazing young woman. In August you will pack up and leave your house for college, and while this will be a huge transition, I want you to know that I have great confidence in you. You will be faced with many choices and temptations, and I want you to remember to make smart decisions. I was recently reminded over spring break of a time when I didn’t make wise decisions and how I suffered because of it. Hopefully my advice will stop you from making similar mistakes. You are your own person; do not feel pressured by society to act a certain way.

When I left home twelve years ago to attend college for the first time I was excited to be on my own. I couldn’t wait to make friends, party, and go out. Instead of buying school clothes, I bought clothes to wear to parties. Getting an education was not important to me. Over Fall and Spring Break I felt the need to leave school and go party.  I mean, isn’t that what everyone did in college? Isn’t that what was modeled in society? Everything from commercials to songs told teens to party. Movies like American Pie, Can’t Hardly Wait and She’s All That all showed high school seniors and college students that partying and drinking was the cool thing to do.

Karl Marx once stated that “life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.” I think he was saying that the world we live in is a reflection of our society. Our society shapes our ideas, philosophies, and our culture. So why does our society portray Spring Break as a drunken party time? I learned the hard way that this type of life is fun but doesn’t work. My first semester I went from getting a 4.0 to getting a 2.0. Not only were my parents furious with me, but I felt like a failure.  The two week (extended) spring break trip I took to Paris didn’t seem all that important anymore. I had fallen behind and was never able to catch up. I learned the hard way that following the party life does not lead to the success and happiness that is portrayed in the film and music industry.

As you know I have started school again, to finish where I left off. This time I am focused and ready to complete my education.  Last week my school had Spring Break and instead of relaxing or having fun I finished the course work for two of my classes ahead of time. I have learned my lesson and I will stop at nothing to finish school and get my degree in teaching.  My attitude has changed, and I am reminded of French philosopher Louis Althusser’s idea that a person’s desires and judgments are the products of social practices. He believed that society made the individuals responsible for their own actions and beliefs, therefore influencing their own image.

Hannah, I know that you have the best intentions of following your dream of becoming a veterinarian; however, I know that there is still a lot of pressure on college students to have fun and party. Hollywood continues to pump out movies that portray the good life of partying.  I think we have to ask ourselves why we follow these cultural ideals that are pushed on us.  Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci identified a form of political control referred to as cultural hegemony. According to Gramsci, cultural hegemony proposes that the prevailing cultural norms of society, imposed by the ruling class, must not be perceived as natural and inevitable, but must be recognized as artificial social constructs, institutions, practices, beliefs; that must be investigated to discover their roots as social class dominations; from which knowledge follows societal liberation.”  We have to ask ourselves why follow the beliefs of these few rich and privileged people; these movie plots are dreamt up in a studio, they are not real life stories, and by watching this garbage we are compromising our society. We are letting them control our thoughts and ideas of what normal is.

I guess my point of writing to you is to let you know that I am here for you. I know this transitional period in your life may be challenging.  I am aware of all of the temptations you will face. However, I want you to be confident in yourself and know that following the norm will not leave you room for success. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. I made a lot of mistakes that I regret, and if I could I would do things differently.  Since I cannot, the best I can do now is to graduate and prove to myself that I have what it takes to succeed. Your life is what you make it, you have the ability to do anything you want … never forget that.

Best of Luck, Lili


Written for Dr. David Odhiambo’s ENG 200: Composition II


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