|Yeah, I'm an English Major -- wanna make somethin' of it?|
|September 15, 2003|
Recently, it came to my attention that a person, who shall remain nameless but with whom I am acquainted, slagged off on English majors. This person said that "Everyone's an English major," and "Being an English major is easy," and "You can't get anywhere with an English major." Pretty ripe stuff, isn't it? Pretty ironic when you consider that this person couldn't even read Tale of Two Cities without breaking down that it was impossible to understand. That takes care of the "easy" part, I think.
"Everyone's an English major."
Being an English major who can cut through the bullshit for a greater cause, I will put aside my making-hyperbolic-statements-that-couldn't-possibly-be-true-so-why-even-bother- to-make-them-when-all-you-are-doing-is-showing-your-ignorance-by-doing-so quibble, to agree that yes, many people are English majors. Just like many people are lawyers, doctors, and even BUSINESS degree holders. Interesting that a lot of them also see the prudence in scoring an English degree first. However, and it is almost pedestrian to point this out, your English major does actually depend a great deal on the institution that conferred it upon you. For instance, getting your degree at Podunk College, Any City, Any State, USA, where the only degree requirement is to write "literature" five times in a bluebook is quite a bit different from graduation from say, my alma mater, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I'm sorry to be a snob, élitest, or to actually have to acknowledge that some institutions are better than others, but there you are.
Being an English major means you can write grammatically correct and half-coherent sentences without overusing exclamation marks. Being an English major means you are cognizant of the difference between "your" and "you're"; "their," "there," and "they're"; and "discrete" and "discreet." Being an English major means you can use the word "cognizant" without looking it up. Being an English major means you won't be laughed out of a job interview for sending in a résumé and cover letter with any of the above errors.
Being an English major means you can read the works of Austen, Dickens, Achebe, Sophocles, Levi (and that's Primo, not Strauss, for you non-English majors out there), Orwell, Melville, Shakespeare, Rabelais and still have mental power for poetry, analysis, history, context, meaning, and complete comprehension. Being an English major means you can read eight novels per lit class, which amounts to one hundred thirty-six in four years. Do I even have to note that that's more books than some people will ever read in their adult lifetime? Being an English major means you can read one hundred thirty-six books in four years and remember characters, themes, plots, motifs, language, literary criticism, and vocabulary. Being an English major means you can read one hundred thirty-six books in four years and write all the accompanying papers about the characters, themes, plots, motifs, language, literary criticism, and vocabulary.
Being an English major means you can speak well, think critically, and ingest -- as well as comprehend -- large amounts of information. Being an English major means the whole world is open to you because you haven't pigeonholed yourself in a narrow-minded, restricted career path.
"You can't get anywhere with an English major."
Except start up a critically acclaimed, critically recognized and downright famous web site that talks long and intelligently about the dreck that is on television.
Except write and publish books.
Except be a playwright, CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, or a Master of Horror.
Except be a director, producer, actor.
Except be a journalist, hold office, or become a Supreme Court Justice.
Except be an astronaut, songwriter, or CEO of Disney.
Except work at a publishing company where you speak to Paul McCartney on a regular basis, go to gallery openings in New York, get paid to write about whatever you put in your mouth, get your name in books, get your name in newspapers and magazines, create, maintain, design, write for an award-winning web site, recap for a critically acclaimed, critically recognized, and downright famous web site that talks long and intelligently about the dreck that is on television.
Oh, hey -- is that English major...me? Is that the English major that sets goals for herself and has managed to accomplish pretty much every single one of them -- from getting into the university of her choice to actually becoming a writer, editor, and chef?
Why yes, I do believe that English major is I.
This is for all you Wharton wizards, Milton mullers, and Aristophanes achievers swimming in a sea of papers: don't ever let anyone devalue your degree, because deep down you know that you can out-write, out-talk, out-spell, out-Scrabble, and out-read any one else out there.