The wealth of my family
By Lane Franklin
WINDOW ROCK, July 10, 2014
I was fortunate to receive a scholarship funded by Carl Icahn, the world's 25th richest man valued at $23.9 billion, according to Forbes.com.
In 2004, the Carl Icahn Scholarship program sent representatives to Tse Ho Tso Middle School in Fort Defiance to recruit Native American students to attend Choate Rosemary Hall High School in Wallingford, Conn.
The recruitment of Navajo students goes back to the late 90s with the goal of offering diversity and opportunity to both student and school. I was rewarded to become a part of that legacy.
A private co-educational college preparatory boarding school, Choate Rosemary Hall High was founded in 1890 and boasts alumni like John F. Kennedy and Ivanka Trump. The school currently has over 800 students with a 2014-2015 tuition of $51,950.
The institution has a $318 million endowment with over $10 million in financial aid awarded to 32 percent of the student body, according to its website.
Due to the benevolence of Mr. Icahn, I was a part of that percentage that got to experience an once-in-a-lifetime journey that many kids never get to have.
As a Native American, I experienced no mistreatment aside from the occasional misguided questions about my heritage.
This four-year journey changed my life and altered my perception of what wealth is. Through my time at Choate, I witnessed firsthand the extremes of privilege and money.
My upbringing was similar to that of many Navajos, so I didn't feel any different from my people here on the reservation. However, I did feel different with my friends at Choate. There was a level of discomfort when discussions of material possessions and traveling arose.
My first notable experience happened in my freshman year. Students had school IDs that also acted as debit cards. I was very proud to have $50 in my account but soon learned that amount was dismal in comparison to the $10,000 in my roommate's account.
In my sophomore year, the Icahn Scholars were invited to an event in New York City hosted by Mr. Icahn himself.
We arrived at a skyscraper and were whisked to one of the top floors to a restaurant with workers adorned in butler attire offering hors d'oeuvres. It was a surreal experience that reminded me of the extravagant lifestyles detailed in the "Great Gatsby" novel.
Another memorable moment in my junior year was asking my roommate about his flight back from winter break.
"How was your flight back to school?" I asked and he casually responded, "It wasn't too bad, our family's private jet was just delayed at the airport for a couple of hours."
Moments like these truly made me question my own personal value.
I was raised in what many would consider the lower income class. My mother always utilized coupons and as the baby of my family I wore the hand-me-downs from my older brothers. Spam was ever present in our diet.
Compared to most of my classmates, what I had wasn't much but I knew in my heart that my entire family worked hard for everything that I had in my life. I was grateful for that fact.
A moment of epiphany occurred when I spoke to a friend before fall break. He mentioned that his only relatives were his parents and they were busy with work so he had to find a friend to spend the week with.
Then it dawned upon me. My mother, father, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and nephews and nieces were and still are my wealth.
My fortune is my family. My relatives transcend materialistic prosperity because they teach me, nourish me, help me and, most importantly, love me. They have raised me to return the same compassion.
By the numbers, I am rich with my two parents, five siblings, two grandparents, 16 aunts and uncles, 50-plus cousins and several nephews and nieces.
My family even extended to the East Coast with my Aunt Pat and Uncle Al. They lived an easy 45-minute drive away from Wallingford in a town called Monroe.
I spent several weekends with them and they were there for my wrestling, cross-country and lacrosse events. In a last minute scurry for my high school graduation, my uncle lent me his suit.
So, every ounce of my body and soul is a reflection of my family.
By my senior year at Choate, I knew I was one of the wealthiest kids there -- maybe even the richest in the context of family.
I successfully graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall on June 6 as a member of the class of 2009.
Following Choate, I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and proudly served four years.
From 2010 to 2014, I had the privilege of once again gaining a new family, one that extends from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., to Aviano Air Base, Italy.
The end of my service arrived this past January. My superiors and fellow airmen constantly asked questions about my future outside of the military.
I always ended my replies with a smile of confidence and these words: "I'm not worried, I have my family."