In celebration of the English major

In college, I started out as a wide-eyed freshman interested in journalism. As the daughter of a sportswriter, I understood the concept of a deadline before I knew the alphabet. My dad is a hard-nosed reporter who turned his penchant for getting the facts into his latest gig: writing a celebrated sports column in Washington, D.C.

I’m a columnist, too — albeit on a much smaller scale. It happened sort of by accident — and not because I’d gone through the J School at the University of Maryland, alma mater of both my father and sister.

No, friends, I was that rare breed of mocked college students everywhere: the English major. Tell someone you’re studying literature and the response is almost always one of two options:

A) Are you going to be a teacher?
B) Oh, so what are you going to do with that?

I didn’t necessarily plan on working for a newspaper, though that’s the world in which I’d grown up and understood better than other fields. I’ve been writing since I was a kid and had completed my first “novel” — 100-some typed pages, all in Courier font — by fifth grade. By the time I enrolled in college, I figured journalism was the route I was born to take . . . though I quickly realized I’m not made of the same stuff as Dad and Kate.

English seemed a natural path. A lifelong reader and devoted supporter of the written word, my English degree was a natural extension of my desire to be as nerdy and bookish as possible. There’s scarcely a plot you could describe that wouldn’t find me blurting out authors’ names and titles, and I love nothing more than trying to connect an author to his or her most famous work. I’m a book geek through and through, even taking a job at Borders during my senior year of college.

English majors go into a variety of fields, it’s true. Some of our teachers. Some become actors. Some are writers, or accountants, or vice presidents of marketing. As English is a broad major that exposes you to many wonderful concepts, ideas and backgrounds, it’s versatile — and can take you anywhere.

In English programs, we’re taught to be analytical, intelligent and serious. We study the words of others for hidden meanings — and then translate those meanings into comprehensible concepts. We read the works of Shakespeare, Austen and Bronte and make them applicable for today’s world. And in some cases, we begin to craft our own masterpieces. With my concentration in creative writing (poetry), I learned to take criticism and defy others’ low expectations.

Now I’m fortunate to be able to write and edit for a living — both skills enhanced by my time in an English program. And though my professors may or may not have scoffed at my alleged “talents,” I can smile the broad grin of a woman who is far from a failure. Even if they told me I suck.

Other people turned out pretty awesome, too. From a recent edition of Shelf Awareness:

Question: What literary quality do Jon Hamm, Alan Alda, Maureen Dowd, Jodie Foster, Tommy Lee Jones, Stephen King, Paul Newman, Joan Rivers, Sting, Helen Thomas, Barbara Walters, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Wolfe, Bob Woodward and Renée Zellweger have in common?

Answer: They were all once college English majors.”

So PSA for parents with children considering a major in “the arts”: we’re not all lunatics. And you won’t have to worry about us starving to death or taking up permanent residence on your couch . . . the kids will be all right.