An Open Letter to the English Majors


Tomorrow I’m going to graduate from college. Finally. And rather than describing all of the ups and downs in detail, I’ll just say that it was an interesting experience, and I’m happy to have had it.

I’m going to leave here with several bags of various stuff from my apartment, the tattoos I got a month after leaving home as a freshman, and a bachelor’s degree in English. Very impressive, I know.

I didn’t come to school as an English major, and even though I’d always thought about pursuing one I initially chose not to because it just seemed like bullshit. Useless. A waste of money (or, at least, my parents’ money). At best, totally impractical. At worst, an awful life choice that would ruin my chances of ever earning a decent living without also having to teach Moby Dick to 14-year-olds.

But during my sophomore year — amidst an unbelievably massive cloud of marijuana smoke (trust me, you’d have to see it to believe it) — I figured, what the hell, and I signed up for a few classes. One, which was being taught by the head of the department, was about Irish-American literature. At first, I never really spoke to her or any of my other English professors, and I was still kind of tentative about the whole thing. A few weeks in, and I was thinking that, you know, maybe it would’ve been a better idea to just go for the business degree so many people had told me would “pay off” in the end.

Our first written assignment in the Irish-American lit class was a brief one — just a response paper about some short story we’d read. So I wrote it. And this was before I’d really ever written anything for anyone, besides whatever other mindless school essays had popped up over the past. This particular paper would end up being very different from the others, because the professor, upon grading and returning it, actually began speaking to me. I don’t remember in detail all of the nice things she said about my writing, but that doesn’t matter — the important thing was, I could tell that writing (and the thought I’d put into it) actually had the ability to “pay off.” She, being the department chair, actually took the time to walk me back from class that day, all the way to her office, in order to officially enroll me in the English program.

Not too long after that, I started writing a bi-weekly column in one of our local newspapers here in Oneonta, and I got a position as a copyeditor at the college’s newspaper. And then other stuff happened over the next of couple of years, and, long story short, I ended up where I am now — preparing to begin work at a chain of well-regarded weekly newspapers in Manhattan, while doing my own thing as a freelancer for music and arts stories involving some big names and exciting topics.

And I know that most of my more specialized work as a journalist — and whatever success I’ve had doing that work — isn’t actually the result of showing up to lit class everyday (or, I’ll admit, every other day). That’s something I’ve worked pretty hard on my own to develop. But I can’t get over the fact — the fact — that the skills and guidance I’ve received alongside my English degree have had a positive impact on just about everything I do, whether it’s in my work or in my daily life.

It’s not just about reading a bunch of books that everyone else thinks are really boring. It’s about the ability to look at a piece of text and analyze it quickly and effectively. It’s about understanding the trends and shifts that have taken place in the world of literature over the past millennia or so, and gaining a richer perspective of our own culture and climate. It’s about developing a knack for both quality research and the effective application of that research to a given topic. It’s about learning how to give a good argument. And, for me, it was about becoming confident in my own ability to communicate through writing — not just to personally express myself but also to access so many other areas of thought that continue to fascinate, perplex and inspire me.

So, while many of my fellow graduates enjoy their last days here, dreading the pitfalls of the employment market or their forthcoming entry-level desk jobs, laughing about how much they’ll wish they could come back here and party once they hit the wall of the real world, I won’t get too emotional. I actually don’t feel that way at all, sitting here now. I just feel prepared: ready to keep going, to keep writing. I feel grateful — to my professors, for giving me the tools, but also to myself, for taking a chance on English and never looking back.

We want to extend a heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS to Sam on his accomplishment. We’re proud of you, Sam, and honored to have you as part of the LitStack family.  -Tee

5 thoughts on “Living Long and Prospering: An Open Letter to the English Majors”

  1. Congratulations, not only on your graduation, but on learning what an English major is all about. I am about to attend my 25th reunion in a few weeks, and I can say if I had to do it over again, I would still major in English. It's a great life, really. Best of luck to you as you begin yours.

  2. After applying for an English Literature undergraduate course in the UK, this was somewhat reassuring. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.