Liberal Art is a true renaissance man, worldly and well-versed in literature, science, history, art, and culture. Every so often, he’ll be answering questions from students, alumni, and maybe a few Michigan groupies, dispensing sage advice and cocktail party wisdom as only can be done by this long-winded young man of letters.
Dear Liberal Art,
I’m a recent Michigan grad with a major in English and a minor in oceanography. My parents are threatening to disown me, and now that I’ve graduated, I’m honestly not sure how I’ll get a job. How can I convince everyone I don’t need a graduate degree to make me marketable?
Perpetually Panicking in Peoria
Hold your head high, Panicking, and stroll boldly into your future. While the prevailing wisdom totally seems to be that an English degree is little more than an application to be on a chain eatery’s waitstaff, rest assured that “pieces of flair” aren’t in your future—unless you want them to be, in which case I’d suggest not pursuing fashion as a career.
The fact of the matter is that unless your parents have all the power of Hogwart’s on their side, they can’t see your future. Preparing for a world so uncertain that the stock market fluctuates when the Federal Reserve Chair texts “hello” to his mom means preparing for virtually anything. Your liberal arts degree does exactly that. And I can prove it.
Consider the late Steve Jobs.
Mentioned in nearly every story written about him during his life (and literally every single story written about him after his death), Jobs dropped out of Reed College. But it’s not that he dropped out that’s important. It’s the sheer awesomeness of what he did at Reed after:audit cool classes. In his commencement address to Stanford students in 2005, he said, “The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.”
Jobs went on to describe a calligraphy class he took and the appreciation he developed for style, artistry, and type, something he credits with influencing how he developed the first Mac. He didn’t talk about business plans, spreadsheets (yawn), or fiduciaries (double yawn). He talked about art. And then he said, “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
He knew what I know: That throughout history, it’s the intersection of rhetoric, logic, art, language, and science that lead to greatness. In ye olden times, writing, logic, and rhetoric were requisite for active citizenship. Think. Analyze. Communicate. Those are the paths to success and the skills you need to avoid a career that requires a paper hat.
You won’t be the next Steve Jobs. (I will, duh.) But you may be a great advertising creative director. Or you might discover you love coffee and use the myriad skills you acquired as an undergrad to write a business plan and open the kind of place that food critics rave about. Or you might become a teacher and help some poor kid who gets bullied to become the next Steve Jobs. Or you may travel the world and become the most popular travel blogger in the world.
Or with any luck, you may be the heaven-sent music agent that signs the act that finally vanquishes Justin Beiber and saves our airwaves.
Regardless of where life takes you, though, no one can take from you the classic education you acquired at Michigan. Artes liberales. If it was good enough for Socrates and Steve Jobs, it’s probably good enough for you.
So explain all of that to the ’rents. And if it doesn’t work, just buy your mom some chocolates and give her a hug. That move is more classic than Classical Studies.
Send your questions for Liberal Art to LSA-Today@umich.edu