Rethinking Current Students’ Future: Would You Pay Them Back?

As a final year student, it is very common for my friends and me talking about the future: what kind of future that we do really hope? Such a conversation is actually booming nowadays among my friends as many of them have tried their very best to achieve their desired job with a competitive salary offered. This writing will then talk about future as I am also a final year student when writing this article. But, as my previous works, I will not let you go with my final decisions. This writing, I do really hope, will bring you think more clearly about future and the most important point: to get the other side of the common, to consider the anti-mainstream side.

Contrasting future

When talking about future, as fresh graduates coming from reputable universities, it is very common to seek jobs that offer high salary. Oil and gas companies are always on the top of the list. Ten million rupiah of monthly salary is indeed very common for graduates working for such companies. Moreover, the amount can be higher if graduates are placed in an isolated area. The salary offered is indeed very competitive and that is the reason why many persons will be queuing in front of the desk of the companies in any kind of job fair.

Salary will then become a natural benchmark for students seeking jobs when they are going to be graduated. Several students may talk about how high salary that is offered by a company combined with premium facilities such as fitness center, transportation fee, incentives and so on. That is also why I was not amazed when one of my lecturers said that actually there was a graduate from my university who did not accept a job offered by a local company based upon the reason that the salary offered was considered too low. High salary seeker does seem very likely to be a propensity for fresh graduate students. A critical question that will be arising then: is it wrong to put a high salary as a benchmark? Should we only consider money in this life?

I will not answer such a question explicitly; rather I will bring all of you to think the other way. That is why I give the subtitle for this section is: contrasting future.

I have several friends who do not have any kind of background in engineering as my friend at my current campus. Some of them may have social science in background or have not yet earned any bachelor degree. And my friends of this type are currently working as activists. There are some of them who stand and strive for women’s rights in Indonesia, advocating to Indonesia government to not forgetting the 1998 and Munir -a well-known Indonesia activist- tragedy, building an inter-religions network for peaceful society and so on.

When I was just in my second year at this campus, I had an opportunity to have internship at a local daily as a journalist. I then had earned enormous and invaluable experiences that I thought that I could not get it anywhere else. It was not just about interesting stories to attend press conference in some new areas but rather about a network built among journalists and how they viewed lives. Let me tell you some of the stories.

When I was conducting my internship there, I met a woman photographer from the same daily. We were given a task to make news in a public hospital in Jakarta. I then talked to her about her experiences as photo-journalist. At a glance, I was amazed when she said, “My salary is not that high. To be honest with you, it is only about 3 million rupiah for a month. But I have invaluable experiences by becoming journalist. One of the most important is that I can become a channel between people and government, to create awareness about something that our government is reluctant to hear about by photo. I can take picture that will say everything. And lastly, it is about my freedom and independence. The daily never neglects  my independence” My mentor in the daily also said, “Do not think to be rich if you choose to be a journalist but you will be very proud because you work for people and live for them not for yourself.”

On the day, I also realized that how small the salary given to the journalist compared with those who work in oil companies, as an example. But I did find an extraordinary philosophical background in every step they take. At the very least, it is not the salary that becomes the driving force; rather it is mainly about their irrational side of human that deliver them to take a risk, working for people and justice. I know that they could have earned more money if they resigned but I do realize that they are not that susceptible.

My journey expanded when I met several social activists in Indonesia. One day I was assigned to by the daily to cover news about Yap Thiam Hien Award, an award dedicated to human rights activist to honor Yap Thiam Hien who was a great lawyer coming from Chinese minority and Christian background. In the session, there was a woman talked about the case of her son that was still not clear and unfortunately when I was writing this article, the condition still unchanged. She told how she and several activists always tried to ask attention from government to clear the 1998 case and the case for her son. Every Thursday, she and many social activists stand in front of Presidential Palace and the case is well-known as “Kamisan.” Every activist in this country should have known very well about the regular action and they should have also known how hard-hearted our government really is to clear the case.

As my relation expanded, several social activists also told their story about how to ask for justice in the country, about clearing human rights abuse that happened in 1998, asking for tolerance by praying in front of Presidential Palace for GKI Yasmin people even though I know very well that some of them Muslim but they fight for minorities’ rights and many examples depicting how irrational they are. They could have got a better job, I know for sure. But when I dived down into their circumstances, I never reached my rational mind about their thoughts in their lives. One day, one of my friends asked me about how could they survive and the best answer that I could give was only to say that “I really do not know. But what I believe is they can still survive almost without something that we are struggling for, namely money. And I always respect them, I salute them.”

What is your goal?

One day I was watching a television program broadcasting a story about two lawyers. The first one is a lawyer who, having been graduated, dedicates himself to work for others, namely to pursue justice for those who are very vulnerable without asking much money to be paid. When a reporter covering the news was invited to his house, the pictures taken were so real. He has no any kind of luxurious things in his modest house. Another lawyer comes from different background. In his early era, he decided to build up his fame in order to earn money and it could be clearly seen when a reporter covering how his house is fulfilled with luxurious things. But nowadays, he then told the reporter that he had changed his mind to “help vulnerable people” since he eventually realized that this opportunity would also bring his fame to constantly increase.

What I would like to tell you in the story above is about your goal. The former lawyer has pure tendency in his conscience that he should help other people because it is the right thing to do so. In contrast, the latter feels that helping the vulnerable will help him to increase his popularity. Based upon the Kantian ethic, the former is indeed the more ethical person since he do not use others as mean to achieve his goal. On the other hand, the latter use others to achieve his goal. It could also be further said that the former knows the substance of becoming a moral person while the latter not, based upon Kantian ethic. Thus, what is the important point that I would really like to deliver?

In every journey to pursue a goal, every person should sacrifice something; at the very least they will sacrifice their time to work restlessly. But will they remember that there is something that is often forgotten and the worse fact is this condition is actually not realized?

When I first encountered my seniors in orientation weeks, they talked about young generation, especially student coming from public universities, to give their should bearing responsibility in order to pave the way for advancing the country and releasing anxiety from people living under poverty. The question is: why should those people? Why the responsibility cannot be placed upon others, who come, let say, from private universities?

As people living in one country, responsibility should be actually taken by everyone in this country. Each of us should contribute to build this nation and guarantee that no one will go to their bed while still hungry: this is the very least goal. By doing this, our solidarity as Indonesians is likely to get stronger.

But, as the two lawyers story that I have just told, student graduated from public universities will have more “burden” to take the responsibility since part of the cost for conducting their study will be extracted from taxpayers. Thus, it is clear that students from such universities owe to the Indonesians people as a whole. The next question is: how will be it paid back? Should they just give the money in the same amount of the subsidized value? The calculation of the payback is not actually that easy. A comprehensive balance should be made.

If a person coming from reputable university, he/she will be automatically attracted to well-known companies and such an opportunity cannot be easily gained by those who do not come from public universities. How could a person pay this opportunity to taxpayers? Furthermore, based upon my own experience, studying at public reputable university will broaden your mind about the actual condition of Indonesia and become more critical about the policies undertaken in the country. How could a price tag be put on such thing? I do not think I could.

There are many more priceless experiences that actually can be taken when studying in such a university that I thought will only strengthen the burden to pay back for this country and also to the taxpayers who have paid part of my cost but then opening many doors of opportunities. The question is: would these students be the second lawyer who only think about preserving themselves and then just utilizing taxpayers as a mean to achieve their end, namely to be rich? Or would these students be the first lawyer who will dedicate themselves to build up this country and preserving justice for all Indonesians like the activists regardless of how much money they will earn?

Sometimes I am just ashamed because those who never experience of studying at my university will stand to demand justice of those who are oppressed without have to worry about millions of rupiah waiting ahead while students coming from the university think about how much money they will get from companies. Do we realize that it is actually very often we use our people as means to accomplish our desire? Have we realized that actually these are the people who actually pay some of our education and they also deserve to get theirs back?

If Indonesia government nowadays cannot successfully preserve justice for them, then it will be the homework for the generations to come to accomplish it. Some of them will choose the way to be activist as done by several of my friends and everyone will have the freedom to choose their unique path that actually can be realized. But one thing that should be remembered: future is not only about us, it is about the whole people who have indirectly get interaction with us and especially Indonesians.

They need these young generations as well as these generations need them to open for them big opportunities while studying at their campuses. Thus, will you pay it back as your future dream? It depends upon you since as a free person I have no right to insist anything upon you who read this article. I just give another view about future and about those who are really anti-mainstream in our current circumstances. 

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