SEDALIA — Ask Matt LaCasse about the idea of opportunity as the American Dream, and you'll get this earful:
"Let’s be honest: A kid growing up in Sedalia doesn't have the same kind of educational opportunities as a kid growing up in New York City. Public education is one of those things that everybody should have the right to. A kid in Sedalia should be able to get the same level of education at a public school as the public education at Malibu Beach. That's not happening. I do think that the biggest part of it remains how committed you want to be and how hard you want to work. How bad do you want to get out of Sedalia? How bad do you want to get out of your small town? What do you want to do with your life? Do you want to own a business one day or are you OK with just working at the local factory and putting in 40 hours every week? I think the majority of it still depends on the individual. But I have a hard time believing that everybody is born with the exact same chance."
LaCasse, 33, grew up on a farm in Grinell, Iowa, where he was taught that the American Dream is about working as hard as you can every day. He studied mass communication at a small college in Storm Lake, Iowa, and then got a job at his hometown's radio station. After a couple of years, he moved to Columbia, where he worked as a news reporter at KFRU.
On Valentine's Day of 2008, he walked into the office to hear that his colleagues who hosted the morning radio show had been advertising him as a single young man who would make a good pair with a kindergarten teacher. A friend of Brandi Pirtle, a kindergarten teacher in Sedalia, was listening to the radio and sent an email recommending her friend. A year and a half later, LaCasse and Pirtle married.
He moved to Sedalia, where he got a job as a marketing and PR specialist at the Boys & Girls Club of West Central Missouri. His American Dream shifted from working as hard as you can to working so as to be able to "live comfortably and give generously."
This story is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.