The English Major

Pursuing an English major is a truly terrifying experience.

Now, it’s not a terrifying experience in the same way it’s terrifying to be a pre-med student, who has eighteen credits every semester with labs and online work and med school looming on the horizon. As scary as an English major is, I prefer it infinitely over the fate of my peers in the STEM field.

English is terrifying in that it is exhilarating, passionate, “mad, bad, and dangerous” in the tradition of Lord Byron, and everyone who encounters an English major looks at them with wide, concerned eyes and asks “And what do you want to do with that?” Or, if there aren’t wide, concerned eyes, then there’s a smirk and a Starbucks barista joke.

And yet, I realised at some point, in agony over my future and my desperate desire to not wind up as a Starbucks barista, that it would be antithetical to my being, my personality, my self, to not continue as an English major.

The decision to be an English major has been long in coming, and like my decision to come to Loyola, it felt incredibly natural. My interest in reading and writing started with my mom, who loves to read as well and made words a part of my life before I could even pronounce most of them. I learned to read with Harry Potter in first grade– every night my dad would read my brother and I a chapter of the first book, and the next day I would reread the same chapter for myself. This introduction to literature led to a love for fantasy novels that characterised my reading material through grade school and is still present in my tastes today.

In fourth grade, I found an attraction to writing. Never will I ever claim that my first few attempts at narrative are worth reading, but it was a process I enjoyed enough to pursue. Over the next few years I would speculate about novels and scrawl poetry,  and it was probably at this point that my intellectual interests turned most decidedly towards the arts over the sciences.

I can still remember with clarity the first essay I wrote of which I was actually proud. Sophomore year we read The Scarlet Letter, and I think after the reading we had a 4-5 page paper assigned. For the first time, the words bubbled up like magic. For the first time, it wasn’t just the content that I found intriguing (sometime in eighth grade I wrote a paper on Lewis Carroll that I enjoyed immensely), but it was the language itself. It was the imagery that I could apply even in a nonfiction, analytical, school-assigned paper.

The next year, I was introduced to Virginia Woolf. At the time I was struggling with my writing style, and in order to help I wanted someone to imitate, but I couldn’t find the right combination of formal and colloquial, eloquent and direct. I asked around, and a friend lent me the third volume of Virginia’s diaries. From there, I fell in love. I’d tried reading Mrs. Dalloway before, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. The diaries, though, were accessible in a way I never could have imagined. I devoured them, and I moved from them into V.’s novels, her short stories, her biographies. In falling in love with Virginia, I fell in love with her time period and culture, with Bloomsbury and the literary movement between World Wars I and II. It was only natural, then, that in entering into higher education, my goal should be to spend the rest of my life studying the people and writing that I love, and teaching whatever I can to others of similar passion.

And now I’m an English major. As a second year I’m also taking CORE classes, like  U.S. Experience or Stats, but the further I journey in my education, the more my time will be dedicated to reading and writing and, starting this year, research. Being an English major, despite the stereotyped job concerns that come with it, gives me a profound sense of peace. My confidence that this is what I’m supposed to be doing has never wavered, and every passing day only makes me more determined to continue and contribute to the legacy of the authors who inspire me.

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