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Mary Ellen Liles Lemieux

Psychotherapist, Class of '83

What do you do for a living and what’s it like?

I am a psychotherapist, working with complicated families. My clients range from parents with adult children still living in their basement, to CEO families with high schoolers acting out with risky behaviors, to highly educated working mothers trying to leave an abusive marriage. In my former professional life, I was a litigation attorney. Every day I use my lawyer-speak conflict resolution and negotiation skills to build consensus among family members, in part because psychobabble doesn't really appeal to techies. It's incredibly rewarding when families learn to have empathy for each other. Other days, I wish my therapy office had a liquor license.

How would you describe the value of an English degree in your career/life?

I was admitted to Michigan through the School of Nursing. After Freshman English and winning a Hopwood Award, I quickly realized I wanted to be on the main campus, engaging in class discussion and writing creatively. Through writing, I found my voice as an individual, and as an English major I was able to engage in my education in way that studying the sciences was not going to provide to a girl from a small town in southern Ohio. After graduation, I'm pretty sure I got into a University of California law school because I didn't graduate from UC-Berkeley or from UCLA. I was a bit of midwestern sensibility diversity.

Who were some of your favorite professors/classes and why?

My most memorable professor was Buzz Alexander. As a winter term freshman, I wrote paper on Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien, pretty much extolling the virtues doing what your government tells you to do and my parents' Republican politics. Suffice it say, Buzz took exception to my thinking and wrote me a single spaced 3/4 page typed response, telling me that I would be nothing more than a sheep if I didn't wake up and learn to think for myself. I spent one more term in nursing school before I surreptitiously registered for English Core and Women Studies classes, without telling my parents or the University. Both were surprised, to say the least. Buzz's call to action changed the trajectory of my life and I'm better for it. For years, I've worked with under-resources communities to provide greater opportunities for others.

Do you have any advice for incoming English majors at Michigan?

Study English because you love literature, words and writing. By graduation, you'll have critical thinking, writing and organizational skills that, along with your Michigan degree, will open so many doors for you. You'll get interviews because you went to Michigan. Except maybe not in Columbus.