Read more alumni reflections in the English Department’s “Letters to a Young English Major” series.
Dear LMU English Major,
When I say I come from a family of doctors, most people don’t understand. They think that one of my parents was a doctor and maybe the odd aunt or uncle, but no: out of my five immediate family members, four are doctors (my two sisters and both parents). So if you got a raised eyebrow upon announcing that you were going to pursue a BA in English, I get it.
But throughout my four years at LMU, I never waivered in my decision.
And looking back, that’s really significant. It meant that I was getting something out of my coursework that outweighed the anxiety induced by seeing my friends’ LinkedIn profiles accumulate skills like “accounting” and “risk analysis” and “C++.” I was immersed in an environment that encouraged me to pursue my passions, which turned studying from something I dreaded into something I organized my life around. And in my junior year, I realized that my English classes weren’t just about the immediate texts we were studying. I was learning how literature could teach empathy; how the critical thinking skills we acquired while examining Shakespeare were essential to thinking deeply and truthfully about the world; and how books could make us all feel a little less alone. It turns out that books are really good at that.
Much is written about how a degree in English doesn’t prepare you for a specific career, leaving the English graduate with the options of fighting tooth and nail for an academic job, becoming a improbably successful (and usually independently wealthy) writer who wins all the fancy prizes and wears silly glasses, or doing “something with marketing.” But the absence of a prescribed career path turned out to be a huge asset for me, leaving me free to explore topics I had never before encountered. Around the start of my senior year, I realized that most of my papers had titles like: “Feminine Curiosity and Escape from Death: the Case of Persephonê and Bluebeard’s Wife” or “Transgression, Isolation, and Feminine Resistance in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’” or “Aphra Behn and the Female Author’s ‘Breach of Nature’.” My growing interest in feminist literary theory was only a little less surprising to me than it was to my largely conservative family. Feminism and feminist theory were not things I thought about in high school. But given the freedom to pursue my specific literary interests, I was able to arrive at a field that inspired me past any LinkedIn-fueled dread. And, after some serious contemplation, I decided to apply to Masters programs in Women’s Studies. This September, I graduated with a first from Oxford.
I now work in fundraising and, even though I am still early in my career, I’m certain I’ve made the right choice. It’s exciting, fulfilling, and, from writing letters and proposals to planning strategies and events, I find that I use the skills I acquired in English class on a daily basis. In the future, I hope to put those skills and experiences to use through work at a women’s health non-profit organization. I may not have an MD after my name, but I’m prepared to make a real difference nonetheless.
You will be too.
Best of luck to you as you find your way,
Class of 2014
Carmen Abella earned an MA in Women’s Studies from Oxford University, and is a currently a Development Assistant at LMU. She enjoys hiking, Cuban food, travel, and reading feminist literature in her spare time.