The ever-changing American dream was the topic of discussion at the Conference of World Affairs panel at Boulder High School Wednesday morning.
Almost every seat in the auditorium was filled, mainly by Boulder High students, members of the Boulder community and faculty were also in attendance for the CWA panel “Grasping for the American Dream: Then and Now.”
The panel was made up of four speakers which included Washington policymaker Michael Franc, political author Simon Hoggart, president of the San Francisco chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War and former Marine Matt Howard and founder of Muse Communications advertising agency, Jo Muse.
With such a diverse range of speakers, the discussion was relevant to many types of backgrounds and upbringings.
“When you ask people what they think the American dream is, you will come up with a lot of different answers,” Franc said. “It’s not about the white picket fence and owning a home as much anymore, in fact, most people say their American dream is having freedom and the opportunity to seize it and pursue it.”
In a recent poll done by thirdway.org, Franc said that voters value opportunity and personal attributes in discovering their dream more than outside factors such as race, luck and gender.
“People want to be able to find their dream on their own and not have somebody hand it to you,” Franc said.
Hoggart took an interesting stance on the essence of the American dream by comparing it to other countries.
“There’s definitely not a Canadian dream,” Hoggart said. “When asked they responded theirs was ‘Not being American.’”
He suggested the dream was more of a nationalist idea, not a globally accepted ideal.
Howard was able to put the dream into the perspective of the audience by relating it to education, specifically college.
“The cost of education is increasing dramatically, but the prospect of graduates finding jobs is decreasing,” Howard said. “The prospect for the American dream is decreasing as well. Their dream is not having to be hindered by the debt on their backs when they get out of school.”
Muse spoke from a different standpoint as an ‘AdMan.’ While there has always been an American dream, Muse said, he takes some of the responsibility for the shape it has taken in this day and age.
“My job is making dumb ideas that sell like crazy,” Muse said. “In the 1950’s, buying a car was one of the most important milestones in a person’s life. Nowadays, cars may be still important but it’s the smartphone that ties a person to the world now.”
“When I go to visit a friend, I myself am guilty of not asking ‘Where’s the bathroom?,’ and instead, ‘What’s your Wi-Fi password?,’” Muse said. “And that definitely has to do with new priorities and advertising.”
Carly Fineman, a 17-year-old Boulder High senior, said she found a sense of pride and nationalism after the panel.
“It made me realize that even though the American dream has changed, I’m privileged enough to have grown up in a country that actually has a constant dream at all,” Fineman said.
Kyle Hawkins, an 18-year-old Boulder High senior, said he was impacted by Muse’s commentary.
“I thought it was interesting how much of a role advertising has played in the American dream,” Hawkins said.
Carissa Chen, an 18-year-old journalism and computer science major, said her version of the American dream is to have a happy professional and home life.
“I think the American dream today has to do with raising a family,” Chen said. “At the same time, for me, I don’t want to be a stay at home mom, so I guess part of my dream is having a successful career.”
All four panelists agreed that although it is hard to pinpoint exactly what the American dream is, what’s important is that it is still being pursued adamantly through tough economic and social times.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Megan Moran at Megan.firstname.lastname@example.org.