In Defense of the English Major (Guest Post by Brendan Latimer)

(The following is a guest post by recent alum Brendan Latimer.)


“Hi, I’m Brendan Latimer and I’m an English major”.


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What a conversation stopper.

Many of my fellow English majors admit they’ve felt a pang of embarrassment– if not defensiveness– over this confession. Many times have I assured friends and others my lawyerly intent, setting aside the inebriated scribe doodling literary notes at a bar, hoping inspiration will strike at the bottom of a pint glass. More commonly, I must refute accusations of pedegogy. I must feed my family, after all.

Jokes aside, these professions are both necessary and common career paths for English majors. Not that they’re the only ones. This semester a professor of Rhetoric here at St. John’s University stated this mantra: ”Speakers lead and leaders speak”. If this is true, I would argue this: “Writers think and thinkers write.” I’d like to discuss what my English major has done for me, personally and professionally.

Those who read continually– on a higher level, with critical analysis– have a broad range of knowledge, empathy, and sympathy in many subjects and cultures that others sorely lack. My life has been colored with the sufferings of fictional multitudes; framed with analytic understanding; enriched by cultures scorned by the ignorant and shunned by the intolerant. By virtue of this major alone my mind has been infused with vernacular unorthodoxy, rigid neo-classicism, and sublime poetical metaphysics. Not only have I come away with higher understanding on these subjects, but on the human race as a whole. And for that, I am blessed.

Moreover, English majors have a grasp on the one thing needed most in an ever-changing world of social plurality and mobility: the mastery of language itself. The ability to write and speak well is an ancient virtue, but an eternally relevant one. At the risk of speaking generally, I’ll say this: if you’re good at one or both of these things, you’re probably set in life. Communication is the key to success in nearly every endeavor. Period.

Professionally, these skills know no bounds. As a passionate advocate of progressive politics, I was honored to have been accepted into one of the most exclusive internships the state of New York has to offer: an intern at the offices of Senator Charles E. Schumer. I began in the Veterans Affairs department, filing documents and sorting mail. Soon I was given more to do: manning the phones, speaking to constituents, etc.

Finally I was given the latitude to respond to mail. These letters– meant for the Senator’s eyes– poured in ceaslessly. I was always busy reading, summarizing and logging letters into a massive database, sending an inquiry to the appropriate federal branch, and relaying a copy to the constituent with Chuck’s stamped signature.

All of this required the organization and debunking capacities required in every English major. The internship had put an intense requirement on fluent reading and comprehension, and I was prepared in every way.

Ultimately, my fellow inerns and I met the third-ranking Senate Democrat for lunch. We spokeschumer and meabout many things, but I remember one conversation particularly well. One of the interns had asked something along the lines of “what does it take to be a politician”. Chuck leaned back, thought carefully and said (I’ll paraphrase here) that writing, speaking, history and economics are paramount. But communication and analysis are key.

What better endorsement than from the Senator himself?

About Steve Mentz 711 Articles
I teach Shakespeare and the blue humanities at St. John's in New York City.

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