KIRKSVILLE — Caleb Foglesong, 18, is a senior and the student body president at Kirksville High School. He plans to start college at Truman State University this fall. His family owns several businesses and is one of the more well-to-do families in Kirksville. From that standpoint, he analyzes the class divide within the high school and shares his theory of what makes children — lower or middle class — become successful in life.
My dad owns a construction company, so I work after school every day. We’re building a house currently. I do just whatever they ask me to do, a lot of times it’s cleaning up the job site or throwing the trash away or whatever. We’re getting ready to spray insulation, so you have to get all the electricity and wires pulled. I’ve been doing that the last couple of weeks.
I’ve always worked for my dad or for my grandpa, ever since I can remember, just doing whatever I can to help out. I feel like working now is teaching me what I need to know for the future.
I definitely see (a lack of work ethic) in my friends. It’s crazy. They look at the job that they have at McDonald’s as something that they deserve, something that should be given to them and they’re only going to put out as much work as they want to. I think that the older generations know that job is not given to you; you have to earn that job. And you have to earn every dime that you make. And they’re more willing to work for it too because they know they have to continue to support their family. Our generation doesn’t think that it takes a lot of hard work to succeed in life.
We see that our parents are getting paid $30,000 to 50,000 a year and we get to do really whatever we want because we have enough money to supply our needs, but we don’t understand that it took them a lot of years of work to get to the point where they can have a job like that. The American culture sort of put a damper on our work ethic. As Americans, we feel like we deserve; collectively, we feel like we have the right to different things that we don’t have the right to, such as jobs.
I’m definitely different than most kids in my generation, I would say that.
My parents have had and continue to have the biggest role in my life. They’re always there for you even when times are tough and they’re just a pat on the back whenever you do something good, and they teach you that you can do whatever you want.
I’m currently the president of my high school, the student body. That’s (an elected position), so that was something I had to go out and achieve. I had to get elected to be a representative in the student senate body. And then the next year I ran against an incumbent. She had known a lot of people and put some fliers up. I put some posters up and campaigned a little.
I run cross country. I’ve had some problems with my legs so I haven’t been able to run the last couple of years. I played basketball and then I broke my ankle, so I couldn’t play basketball anymore. And then I played baseball, but I was cut from the team my sophomore year. The coach, I guess, thought there were better players on the team. My family was there for me. And you don’t put everything into one thing in life and say that’s the most important thing. It was a life lesson because baseball was my favorite sport. It was definitely hard, but you get through it.
I think a big thing about college is the experience, learning how to live life, more so than the things that you learn in the classroom. It molds you and creates who you’re in the future.
Truman (State University) is a great school. It’s also in town, which is nice for me so I can see my family. It’s also very affordable compared to other schools at the same level. All of those things combined made me want to come here.
There’s a school in Florida called PBA, Palm Beach Atlantic, and my older sister who’s a sophomore is going there, so I considered that one. It’s a Christian college, a really nice college, but it’s a long way away. I sort of want to stay at home. PBA is also much more expensive and I didn’t want to spend that money on college when you get the same education somewhere else.
(I'll study) business or political science, I’m not sure. I’ve been thinking about business a lot because political science isn’t applicable to life unless you want to be a lawyer, which I don’t. I would like to run a business or be an entrepreneur. So sort of follow the same suit that (my father) has and maybe learn from him.
(I want) a family, probably, in 10 years. A job that I can support my family with and a house, a car and then something that I’m building for the future, something that is the stepping stone because 10 years is really not that far away. By then I don’t think I’ll be doing the same thing I’ll be doing in 50 years, but I definitely want to set the stepping stones to lead me on the way and to figure out what I want to do in life.
The American Dream? The opportunity to succeed, the opportunity to better yourself, the opportunity to believe in God or to have whatever religion that you want to believe in. Just opportunities, I guess it's how I would define the American Dream.
I think money is tied to a lot of things that we do in life, but I don’t think money is the American Dream. I think it’s something that’s more personal, something that’s deep down. It’s a feeling, not wealth. For some people maybe, they do put their life into what they own or into the money that they have. I hopefully won’t do that with my own life.
The middle class, they go to work every day, they own a house or they’re paying off a house and they have a family of four or five. This is the sort of things that you get from your teachers and from movies and from TV and from everything in life that tells you what the middle class is. But, I mean, they’re working hard, saving, earning so they can retire someday, trying to put their kids through college and keep them in line.
Kirksville definitely has a very wide gap between people in poverty and people in the middle class. I don’t think there’s that upper class level in Kirksville. I think we’re from middle class to poverty. And there’s definitely a divide in our school, which is sad to see that we can’t get along among the different groups of people. I don’t think that’s because the students in the school say 'we’re better than you.' I think it’s just that we don’t have the opportunity as children to grow up together because we live in different neighborhoods.
You would definitely see different people hanging out together. I guess inside of the middle class group there are divides in between them, but when it comes down to the end of the day they’re more likely to stay together than with the people that are in the lower class, or in the less wealthy part of the school.
I see the people that have less money not focusing on school as much, which is sad. The people that are wealthier in the school have maybe somebody behind them pushing and saying, 'Hey, this is what you need to do.' (Students in the upper class) more often than not are involved in different activities outside the classroom. They’re involved in foreign language, in the student senate, they play baseball and basketball and different sports.
I think that (students in the lower class) are allowed the same opportunities: they attend the same school, they have the same education that we had, they have the same opportunity to try out for the basketball team, or the baseball team, or the football team, or to be involved in the student senate. They can work at Hy-Vee, they can work at McDonald’s, or wherever they want to work. But I do think that people on the lower end are missing a backing from family. I think that they don’t know that they are unique individuals that can do anything they want. It’s sad that we don’t have families that will support them and say, 'You can do anything you want, but you’re going to have to go to school, you’re going to have to find a job, you’re going to have to work, you’re going to have to do this in order to get it.' I would say they have the same opportunities, but they just don’t have the same motivation from people around them.
I think (family support) is the most important thing to succeeding in life.
My parents never told me that I’m going to be the best doctor, the best lawyer or whatever it is that I do, so I don’t think they’re building me up, up, up and then cutting me down whenever I don’t achieve that. I think they’re saying, 'You know what, we’re OK with you working a minimum wage job your entire life. If that’s what you do, then more power to you. But if you want to go to college and graduate and do whatever you want to do, you can do it.'
But they’re always there for you, whenever you fall down. I mean there are times in life whenever you don’t get elected the student president; that happens in everybody’s lives. But to have somebody there who catches you whenever you fall and says 'You’re still a great kid and you can do whatever you want' — I think that’s the difference between me injecting heroin and continuing to push and strive.
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.