Letters to a Young English Major: Tony DeLateur ’05

Read more alumni reflections in the English Department’s “Letters to a Young English Major” series.

image1 300x300 - Letters to a Young English Major: Tony DeLateur '05Dear LMU English Major:

When I declared English as my major at LMU, friends and family asked, “What are you going to do with that?” I bet you’ve heard that question, too. My love for the written word and the rigors of LMU’s English program kept me focused, but I sometimes questioned my decision – would it be better if I studied accounting or computer engineering; fields where post-college life was more certain? The last decade has revealed the answer: No. My experiences have given me a strong opinion about the value of an English major. I hope a few remarks about what studying English has taught me, and how I’ve used those skills, will leave you confident in your chosen path.

Some dismiss the study of English as honing right-brain (creative) skills in a left-brain (analytical) world, driven by big data and the need to manipulate advanced technology. But the McKinsey Global Institute calls the notion of brain-hemisphere dominance a neuro-myth, a misconception of how the mind works. The fact is that the intuitive parts of our brain are in constant conversation with the logical, analytical areas, and building one develops the other. It’s no exaggeration, then, to say that your explication of Michael Henchard’s guilt in The Mayor of Casterbridge can help you with a statistical analysis of U.S. GDP. Studying English will make you a rational thinker as much as an interpretive one.

The ability to interpret is the great gift of English study. Literature offers such broad exposure to various metaphysics (what we know) and epistemologies (how we know what we know) that an English major can’t help but develop a sense of relativism. Your study will teach you that there are few absolutes – the world is subject to endless interpretation. One of the great ideas of critic Harold Bloom – whom you’ll read in your time at LMU – is that our language creates the world, not the other way around. Who wouldn’t want that power? English is often mocked for the no-wrong-answer subjectivity that comes with interpretation, but the process of evaluating a text and forming your own ideas about it will teach you what a powerful argument looks like, make you open to change, and help you put your creative stamp on your future work.

When I graduated from LMU, I didn’t know any of the above. I knew only that I loved writing and what I’d learned in college, and wanted to build on it. My work as an investment bank consultant requires me to uncover a person’s deepest personal desires, and find a realistic way to fulfill them by creating a set of actions that match small details of her life with economic trends. The process demands empathy, analysis, teamwork, awareness of cognitive dysfunction, a clear worldview, and conviction in the result. No single college major can make us experts in all of this, but I’d argue that English comes closest.

I’ve followed an unorthodox path that I couldn’t have predicted ten years ago, and the future may look cloudy to you at the moment. But I encourage you not to confuse uncertainty with risk; you may not know what job you’ll have in five years, but that doesn’t mean majoring in English is a “long shot.” On the contrary, it will open a huge number of doors, and your biggest dilemma will be which one to walk through. Study hard, don’t skip class, and enjoy the journey. A four-year process of rapid intellectual and personal growth lies before you.

Best of luck,

Tony DeLateur
Class of 2005

Tony DeLateur is a financial advisor with Morgan Stanley in Seattle, WA. He enjoys writing, mountaineering, skiing, chess, and travel.