The setting: The English House.
The time: Dusk.
The scene: Just after having attended a panel of English majors talking about their post-English major career trajectory.
The epiphany: English majors have it tough.
They struggle. They are passionate, but it is a rough world out there for those nascent English graduates who have heads full of Eliot and Woolf and other literary paraphernalia. Though I would have no personal experience with that except for the fact that I am three years away from being one of them; passion at their fingertips ready to be spilled onto paper from the mind and yet, the cloud of ambiguity, dense with terms like “financial security” and “stable careers”, hovers above them.
After having heard four brilliant people—to say nothing of the professors and facilitators of the event—expound upon the shaky balance of love and money that the English major entails, and yet, how they found happiness within their careers, I felt at once inspired by their passion and disappointed by the stereotypes of English majors that are prevalent in college.
Why is it that the publishing industry is so hard to break into? Why is it that journalism has “job insecurity” printed in the margins alongside its columns? Why does the general public write off publishing editors as an unhappy lot?
Meeting alumni (though happy with their jobs and attributing this success to their English major) all working in fields that did not directly correspond to writing and literature in the conventional sense both excited and disappointed me. While the event was centered around raising more awareness of the transferability and flexibility of an English major, it also, in a nutshell, crushed my highbrow, rainbow-glittered and Woolf-Room-Of-One’s-Own-inspired dreams.
After having edited, written for, and worked for newspapers and magazines—in an attempt to test the waters for myself—I considered myself sure about my future. To hell with the expectations of society, I said. Lighter in the pocket, I said, but surely richer in the heart. Do the pressures of college (a sheltered bubble itself) force me to reconsider my future? Of course not.
But it cannot be denied that in a STEM-centered college world, the liberal arts college is the sole institution that still tries to nourish and keep alive the humanities, and in this case, the English major. Sadly, as the event I attended displayed, more emphasis was given to trying to defend the major than trying to explore it. Sadly, there exists the need to defend a major that has so much value and importance.
I left the event with mixed feelings. Yet I know, perhaps as an outcome of writing this, now more than ever, that it takes a different sort of certainty to be able to commit not just four years of education, but a lifetime of passion to a field of study such as English. And as you will see with most English major students, it also takes a good deal of tough skin.