I sat in the college classroom—a bright-eyed freshman. My notebook was out, my pencil was at the ready—this was it! I was finally in an institution of higher education! I would face bigger challenges, have to work harder—more would be expected in the adult world and I couldn’t wait to get started. As I furiously jotted down notes and punched numbers into my calculator to double check my answers, the girl a few seats down raised her hand.

“Do we really have to memorize all five of those equations? That’s so much work! Can’t you just put them up on the board for us during the test?”

My jaw dropped. What had just happened? Was I back in kindergarten? But I was soon to find that this would not be a singular occurrence. Other students joined in on the plea and this mindset would permeate other classes as well. But apparently more was not expected of us—the professor did indeed write the equations on the board for our test just as requested.

Reality check: college was not exactly the challenge I expected it to be. And I was thoroughly disappointed.

I soon realized that my generation has a problem. We are, as a whole, rather lazy. Many of us simply don’t understand what it means to really work.

But work is an essential part of America. After all, isn’t that what the American Dream really is? That if you work hard enough, you will succeed? That if you work for it, anything is possible. I was under the impression that we were the Land of Opportunity, but now it seems more and more like we are the Land of Entitlement.

Why do we lack this work ethic? The answer is simple: our world is one of instant gratification. With all of technology’s advances, life is considerably easier than what it once was, and many of us, having known no other life, take it for granted—it’s an easy trap to fall into. Work no longer has much value and it is a direct result of the way we live.

Our mindset has two aspects: easy and fast. You only have to turn on the television and watch a few commercials to catch on to this frame of mind. Easy and fast sells, and it is expected.

The problem is that work is the exact opposite of these concepts. It is hard and it takes time. The result is sadly predictable; many of us reject a good work ethic. And there are plenty of distractions to assist us in this pursuit (all of which involve staring impassively at a screen doing absolutely nothing)—television, computers, video games, movies. These activities involve no physical or mental effort. These are instant gratifications. Even our social lives can be conducted without ever actually putting ourselves in a social setting.

However, far from being a minor annoyance, there are much bigger consequences that the future holds for this generation should we as a whole continue in this mindset and these practices.

I beg my peers to consider this: if we remain apathetic in our everyday lives, we will be apathetic in our political lives; furthermore, it is less likely that we will take the time or be willing to do the work to research the actual issues and will end up debating everything on pure emotion.

Lord Acton, a political philosopher and economist, once explained that the reason he did not condone the government feeding, clothing, or caring for the people was because with a loss of responsibility the people would become dependent on the government. Essentially, without any sort of work ethic, without a sense of responsibility, the people will ultimately enslave themselves. Freedom is work. We are not free simply because we are Americans. We are free because men and women worked to make it so. Because they died to make it so. And that work is never over. If we allow ourselves to lose our work ethic, we have given up our freedom. Is this where we are headed?

Thomas Paine told those who originally fought for our freedom, “That which we gain too cheap, we value too lightly.” We would do well to remember those words. This holds true for all that we do, whether it concern something as vast as freedom, or something as specific as our schoolwork. They are linked. What we manifest in our individual lives will take root and grow into everything we do.

So, here is my challenge to my generation: Yes, the world is an easy and fast-paced place to live now and it is only getting more so. We, as the future of America, face an important question: how do we salvage our traditional work ethic?

The answer is simple: we change because we as individuals recognize that we need to (after all, they say admitting the problem is the first step) and we choose to do so. Whether or not we get up off the couch and start working is up to us. These are our choices, our consequences, and our responsibilities. 

So, I encourage you: get up and do the work (Who knows? You might be surprised to find what satisfaction a job well done can bring)! It may not necessarily be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.

Nicole Swinford is a student at Chapman University in Orange, California. She interned at FoxNews.com this summer.