I discussed what it meant to be an English major with a coworker of mine yesterday, and it got me thinking. And when I get thinking on a topic, it usually ends up with me slaving over a manuscript on my computer for an incredible amount of time, the result being this very speech. So, what are you going to do with an English degree once you graduate? It’s probably a safe assumption that your friends do not ask you this question, or your aunt and uncle, and I am guessing this question does not come up during conversations with your parents. Of course, given that each of you are already English majors, you may have done some analysis on your own, and you’ve probably already deduced that I am being what we, in the English studies world, like to call ironic. This question is the only question that is ever asked of any English major.
The act of reading, the act of engaging with stories, is to reach out, to try to understand ourselves and to understand others. In studying literature, the English major enters into the conversation that has been taking place for thousands of years, a conversation which involves men and women, past and present, who simply wanted to understand. Because all of you are sitting in this room, this is already evident to you.
Some of us will be graduating soon, and you, like me, are likely terrified at this prospect. Some of you may be asking yourselves what the real world value is of the English major, not as a kind of theory driven study of the human condition, but rather as a means to achieve an economical end. But you have done right. You are here today as Officers and Members of this Honors Society, one which instills not only the value of reading an...
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...tain way, and if you really did your homework, you know how you might make an impact. Not how you might change these people, but how you can create a dialogue, how you can create empathy, how you can understand and reason and think and learn and grow.
Each of you, and myself, have chosen this life path, the path to make sense of this big world filled with all these binaries and markets. The writer David Foster Wallace once said: “I receive five hundred thousand discrete bits of information a day, of which maybe 25 are important. My job is to make sense of it.” So when each of us walk up those stairs and across that stage and accept our diplomas, we will be ready to face that question—what are you going to do with an English degree?—with the simple answer that the very question itself is the most ridiculous question a person could ever ask.
Thank you very much.
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