I was an English major.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved books. From Angelina Ballerina to Nancy Drew, my childhood was filled with page after page of adventures that I eagerly took part in. As I got older, I discovered that I loved writing, too. From entries in my elementary school journals to notebooks filled with the poetry of my high school years, writing became an activity I adored rather than a school assignment I dreaded. Each reading assignment, each research paper was met with an enthusiasm that I didn’t have for any other subject in school.
So I chose the only path that made sense to me, the only path that felt right. I became an English major. Sure, I also added a major in Communication Studies, but that was simply another outlet for my love of writing. In my heart, I was always first and foremost an English major.
I wanted to read. I wanted to write. I wanted to be surrounded for four years by the words that I loved so deeply and the tools to help me understand and appreciate those words to the best of my ability. So I became an English major.
I was impractical. Being an English major wouldn’t make me rich or famous. I wasn’t training to be a stereotypically “valuable” member of the working world.
But I was happy.
It took a while, but eventually I got used to the snide remarks and eye rolls when I talked about my major to others. I learned not to be offended by the way people derisively talked about those of us who chose to spend our college career “reading books all day” (insert passive-aggressive sigh here). I even discovered that it didn’t bother me when people thought I had an “easy major,” because I knew the truth; there’s nothing easy about reading the complete works of Jane Austen in a semester or writing 30 pages of literary analysis in three days for various course finals.
I wasn’t pre-law. I wasn’t pre-med. I wasn’t studying economics, education, or engineering. Those are all important majors to be sure, and they deserve the respect they are given. But those of us who choose to “read books all day” deserve some respect, too.
After all, English majors do learn incredibly valuable skills—skills that are often overlooked by others until it comes time to apply and interview for jobs. We learn how to write about any topic you could imagine—and to do it well. We learn how to argue a point (even one we don’t necessarily agree with) by citing our sources, backing up our thesis with facts, and using compelling language to change the minds and hearts of others. We learn how to mine every nugget of information possible from the words we read. And we learn how to think deeply and critically about the world around us.
Being an English major is about more than just developing the kinds of skills you can put on a résumé, though. It’s about the lessons you learn from the words and stories that you immerse yourself in. You discover that there’s no one way to interpret a book; nothing is black and white. With each book, each lecture, and each discussion, you open your mind a little bit more to new worlds and new ways of seeing the world you inhabit.
As an English major, I spent four years studying the stories of others, and I consider that a truly important kind of education. It might not have made me a traditionally “useful” member of society, but it made me a valuable member of the human race.
The world needs doctors, lawyers, and engineers. But it needs English majors, too. Words have the potential to save and change lives, to shape and affect the world. Words matter, and, therefore, those who study words matter.
Of course, practicality is important in the real world, but so is passion. My passion is for words and stories, but I know amazing people with passions for science, math, and many other areas of study. I’m proud to say I followed my passion, and I admire those who have followed and continue to follow theirs in any capacity.
I was an English major. Words were—and still are—my life.
And I wouldn’t want it any other way.