Last month I had the chance to speak to an English 195 class at BYU, which is a class made up of mostly freshman. I took that class before most of those students were even born, in a building that’s no longer used for Humanities, and I spoke in a building that didn’t exist then (talk about a time warp).
My job was to show how, as a former BYU English major (who graduated cum laude *cough, cough*) had gone on to use her major. It was a great experience being able to encourage the students, especially since I knew full well that they’d been the butt of the same jokes I have been (“What are you going to do with your major when you graduate? Ask, “Do you want fries with that?” Hahahaha!!!!)
To come back and say that I’ve been successful in my chosen field and to explain how an English major teaches you to communicate, analyze, and THINK was exciting. Those are tools these students will all need in today’s world, regardless of the industry they end up in. Just about every job requires those skills.
(Not to mention the Dead Poets Society factor: knowing and enjoying literature is a fantastic reason and way to enjoy life. Dating myself again. That came out WAY before these students were born.)
After mentioning the “fries” jokes (which they all groaned and laughed over; they’d been there), I shared the following story I posted years ago on my blog and thought it fitting to retell here.
There are those of us who know precisely what we’re going to do with it. In my case, that meant being a writer. To remain practical, I also went into Secondary Education and planned to get a teaching certificate to be a high school English teacher. (I decided in the end to graduate sans certificate, but that’s a story for another time.)
Even those English majors who were pre-law or had some other big career plan got razzed about their major because so many people think that English is somehow easy and has about as much depth as cotton candy—that anyone could do it.
In fact, I had a close family member (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent . . . or, er, guilty) who was a manager at a company. When hiring employees, she rolled her eyes at anyone trying to apply with a degree as “fluffy” as English (her word, not mine—right in front of me, though).
During my last big semester of college, I had an American Literature class usually taken by seniors. Daring souls who were not English majors could take the class as an Arts & Letters elective. The semester began with three such students in our class.
Within about a week, two had dropped the class because it was too hard.
(Can you hear my maniacal laughter?)
The final, non-English-major, student was (and I’m not making this up) pre-med. Not exactly a stupid person, right?
He stuck it out through the entire semester, but boy did he struggle. His returned papers looked like someone had dumped a bottle of red ink all over them. His tests were much the same. As the rest of us reviewed and compared notes prior to quizzes and tests—discussing American Romanticism and Whitman, maybe—he’d say, “Huh? What does that mean? Where was that? I don’t GET it!”
He was used to memorizing clear-cut answers in math and science classes. (A + B = C, darn it!) Having to use an analytical and subjective side of his brain, to find evidence and prove your point with words, to think about things in an abstract way? All of that about killed him. Add critical theories to the mix, and I think he came close to melt-down. (If I recall, he also said things about the books like, “That character died? Where?”)
The poor kid just scraped through the class, while I left each day smiling. The class was a challenge (yes, even for the English majors), but I loved every second of it. Yet it was brutally hard for him—and too hard for the other students who didn’t even dare try the course for more than two days.
The pre-med guy is one reason I’ll always remember that class; it felt good to see someone gain respect for what I had chosen to study.
Another reason I remember it is because of what happened mid-semester: President Hinckley became the new prophet.
For those of you who don’t know, he was . . . dun-dun-dun . . . an ENGLISH MAJOR.
My professor, the beloved, now-retired Richard Cracroft, had seen and heard plenty of put-downs about his chosen field just like the rest of us had.
I’ll always remember what he said the day after President Hinckley was ordained:
“Students, we have an English major as a prophet. We are vindicated!”
Amen, Dr. Cracroft. No one’s about to mock that man’s English degree.
A COUPLE OF IMPORTANT REMINDERS:
1) Readers have until December 31 to nominate titles for a Whitney Award. Books published in 2010, written by LDS authors (not just in the LDS market) are eligible. Finalists will be announced February 1. Awards will be given out at the annual Whitney Gala on May 7 immediately following the LDStorymakers Conference.
2) Speaking of which, the 8th (at least?) annual LDStorymakers Writing Conference opened for registration this week. It’s shaping up to be the best yet.