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Let me pay off my student loans

By Matthew Delaney

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

I don’t want to pay off my student loans — I need to. 

It’s not about doing what’s right for the economy. Don’t get me wrong, it is the right thing to do at the macro level, financially speaking. But thinking about the economy doesn’t wake me up in the morning. I don’t tell myself “for the deficit” every time I make those payments. I’m just thinking about how much money I’ll have left over.  

And it’s definitely not about being fair to internet strangers.  

You know the kind — the 26–45-year-olds who morph into boomers anytime this topic comes up. They talk about the six jobs they held and the bread sandwiches they ate just to pay off their loans. For the record, I’m sure they’re being sincere (like in this example). I’m not coming after parents who make those sacrifices for their kids either (like this guy). but they’re feeding into the polarization that every hot button issue tries to gin up. 

I want to pay off my loans because the Biden administration’s fascination with canceling even some of the student loan debt (illegally, mind you) robs young people of a rite of passage that we desperately need. 

There are few, if any, initiations into adulthood remaining.  

Getting a driver’s license is the closest thing we have to any sort of  “prove you’re capable of doing this” task that is clearly pass or fail. Thanks to public schools becoming so ideological and churning out people who can’t read above a sixth-grade level, our growth in high school graduation rates is looking less impressive. The association of prom (of all things) with being a rite of passage appears to be more of a Hollywood myth than anything else.  

But for the sake of argument, let’s say those three are all rites of passage. So, do we just stop demanding growth from young people after they leave high school? Apparently, yes.   

That great military of ours has lowered physical fitness standards in order to be more gender neutral. Elite colleges are making SAT scores optional for new students. Most white-collar jobs look like adult playgrounds if TikTok is any indication. Finding a spouse is done by swiping a pic on your phone.  

We lowered the bar on so many parts of life that we have removed any sense of expectation. I’d actually take it a step further — the concept of expectations has been weaponized to cast people as failures.  

Covid-19 showed us this more than anything. The “new normal” from the pandemic expected us to do completely abnormal things for an undetermined amount of time. When we grew predictably frustrated with scientifically inconsistent rules on masking, distancing, and lockdowns, our political and bureaucratic betters conveyed that we just weren’t trying hard enough. They in turn demanded more from us by making us give up our medical privacy and inflict damage to our socio-emotional health to make up for it.  

Climate change will follow that same pattern. With the World Economic Forum going after Dutch farmers and California progressing toward banning new gas-powered cars, I’d argue neither of these are genuinely designed to achieve their stated goals. They’re created to stir up either resistance or refusal in average people, and then justify tougher crackdowns on other sources of greenhouse gasses down the road (I’d guess that a manufactured need to ration meat is on the horizon). 

Contrast those with how the current monkeypox outbreak is being treated.  

Damn near 100% of the cases are gay or bisexual men who are passing it by doing only what gay or bisexual men do. There is no mystery on what the source of the spread is, and thankfully, there’s a (legit) vaccine for it. But while we wait for shots to get into arms, the one mitigation technique that has been politely whispered by health officials (psst..monogamy) has been countered by hopeful messages that people should be trusted to make good choices. Reports of fetish festivals going on as planned and Twitter threads about piss orgies showed which message got more traction.  

To be a “liberal” now means that you are liberated from any expectations of moral or responsible behavior. It’s the highest form of privilege our society grants you. Now it’s a privilege being handed to well-heeled postgrads who, ironically, are so quick to tell us to “check our privilege.”  

That doesn’t negate some of the real problems with how student loans have been administered. I sympathize with those who have such high interest rates that the debt can feel inescapable. I also relate to people who feel like the only way to pay off their debts is to do things that don’t come naturally to them, like learning to code or selling real estate.  

Again, those are fair points, but they aren’t the point. The point is that we ask nothing of young people — especially those that come from a certain class, check the right identity boxes, or parrot the correct views —- despite every major communication platform telling us they’re “the future.” The fortunate sons of our institutions will be anointed as leaders simply because they aren’t given any expectations to fall short of.  

That is why I want to pay off my student loans. Unlike the Whale Poetry majors who used the moratorium to splurge on a trip to Tulum, I’ve paid off $8,000 in loans since March 2020 and plan to do some more before it expires at the end of this year. I’ve worked at least three jobs for the past 18 months and have done various side gigs to make that happen. I’ve had stretches where I’ve worked weeks, even a month and a half, without a day off. And yes, there have been plenty of meals when I’ve eaten bread sandwiches for lunch and ramen for dinner. 

I’m not trying to indulge in the boomerisms I knocked earlier. There are millions of people out there who work harder and have overcome more than I’ve had to, and may ever have to. What I’m trying to show is that fulfilling your obligations is a normal, respectable thing to do that counts to the people who count.  

So many problems we’ve experienced over the past decade have come from demonizing positive values and glorifying degenerative ones. Paying back your loans is an easy way to show that we’re committed to reversing that trend, and creating a new rite of passage in the process. I don’t just want to be a part of that movement — I need to be.

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Matthew Delaney


Matthew Delaney is a local journalist based in Washington, D.C. When he’s not questioning why he joined the media, he’s doing his part to restore some of its credibility with quality work

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