So I graduated from college a few weeks ago and this has been my life:
Person: What was your major, again?
Person (eyebrows raised): Oh. (pause) What are you going to do with that?
For whatever reason, people are under the assumption that and English degree is pointless; that I went to school, read some books, wrote some essays, and will now build a cave out paperbacks and live there with bookworms (kind creatures but unwilling to share their stuff). Which is true – for the most part – but we learned a lot more than that, like how to be:
1. Research Experts
I spent a lot of time in the library – on the computer, at a desk, sprawled out on the floor between the shelves. I would read what I was supposed to be reading, or whatever was in front of me. At the end of each semester, I would carry a grocery bag or two of all of my borrowed books back to the library to the shock of the student-librarians.
“What are you always doing in there?” Some of my friends would ask.
“You know, researching.”
Researching what? Everything.
I researched Chaucer, feminism in television, doctoral ethics, the Korean War, Romanticism, Batman… as soon as I sensed the spark of a lightbulb in class, I would write it down and research it. Will my job interviewers ever want to read my short paper comparing Beowulf to Batman? Probably not, but s/he will know that I am capable of coming up with an idea, researching the heck out of it, and composing an educated argument – like how similar Beowulf and Batman are. Which they are.
2. Crazy Good at Analysis
The big thing in English is literary analysis – “What do the characters symbolize?” “What is the theme?” “What is the author really trying to say?” We don’t simply read what’s given to us; we analyze it.
Last semester one of my professors paid me of the best compliments of my academic career. My English Capping class was examining archived slave narratives with the History Capping class. I don’t remember what I asked, but after I did, my professor said to the other: “Shannon is very good at asking the bigger questions.” For English majors, it’s not necessarily about giving the right answer, but about asking the right question. We also want to know more – talk to each other more, write about it more, read about it more – and our future employers will like this.
3. And, You Know, Superb Writers
When I wasn’t writing essays or research papers, I was still writing – emails, letters, thank you’s, poems, short stories, plays, and finally, a screenplay (which is turning out to be one of my hardest tasks ever). I wrote notes during class, notes while I read, and notes just because I felt like taking notes. I was always writing, and this improved my writing. Even though we are in the digital age, writing is still an important skill to have, using it as simply as for writing a memo. Whether I work for myself or a company or some intimidating round guy in a swirly chair – I have the power to write.
Some of my friends are going on to be teachers, others are applying to law school or thinking about a medical career. I’m a nut and want to give screenwriting a shot. As English majors, we acquired skills, and those skills can be applied anywhere – like Ruler of the World. Or Universe. Depending on our thoughts about space.