A quick glance at the back page of The Panel’s Commencement issue reveals a remarkable list of college destinations. Each year, the entirety of a graduating class lands at schools that would make any high schooler envious. Though Belmont Hill’s pride certainly isn’t based on college placement (there’s a reason it’s relegated to the back page), this list speaks to how different our lives are when compared to those in broader society. If anything, it confirms the existence of a “Belmont Hill bubble.”
After matriculating to prestigious colleges, we will graduate and some of us may possibly attain a master’s degree or a doctorate. An admirable career will likely reward us for academic work, yet most of us will only professionally interact with about half of our fellow Americans over the course of our lives—those who also have college degrees and comparable jobs complete with annual salaries, standard hours, bonuses, incentives, and comprehensive insurance packages. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we’ll all be missing out, deprived of an important perspective.
In contrast, according to the United States Department of Labor, nearly 80 million Americans worked jobs for hourly wages in 2016. Such workers make up 58.7 percent of the American labor force, and the experience of many Belmont Hill alumni is thus rarified. They miss out on the experience of a majority of Americans.
Getting a summer job is the perfect opportunity to step out of one’s comfort zone and forge relationships in the world outside of Belmont Hill. Working an hourly job
(especially one that pays minimum wage) and all that it entails—from the boredom of long, seemingly purposeless shifts to the thrill of receiving a paycheck with your very own name—allows us to collaborate with those with whom we’d rarely interact.
A few weeks ago, The Panel sent out an optional survey to Upper School students asking them about their experience working for pay over the summer. Of the 35 boys who filled out the survey, 24 worked for minimum wage or less. They traded away their title as a Belmont Hill student for ones that ranged from counselor to librarian to groundskeeper. One respondent even described himself as a CEO, someone who had spent more than 240 hours launching a clothing brand this past summer. Over 90% of respondents enjoyed their jobs, and almost all 35 gained something more than just money, describing their enhancement of people-skills and newfound desires for responsibility and independence. “I think I grew as an adult,” wrote one respondent. “Managing a schedule, coordinating with a boss, and interacting with real (occasionally frustrating) customers are arguably more valuable than math homework and other academic exercises.” Summer jobs are exactly that—real-world experiences that remove us from the Belmont Hill bubble and teach us lessons that rival those provided in the classroom, up at a SmartBoard, or around a Harkness table.
Perhaps most importantly, working a minimum wage job allows Belmont Hill boys to supplement their elite education by gaining job experience that provides insight into how the majority of Americans work. Regardless of your accolades, your titles on campus, or your reputation, you’re just another warehouse hand over the summer, receiving the same wages and conferred with the same responsibilities as anyone else who’s willing to put in the effort. Exposing yourself to this diversity of experiences and backgrounds helps you gain a broader perspective of the world you inhabit.