Plot Twist: A Lit Degree is Just the Beginning

Racquel Griffith, ArtsEtc's intrepid Lit major and editorial assistant on her current trip to South Korea: discovering just how much the world really has to offer.

ArtsEtc's intrepid Lit major and editorial assistant on her current trip to South Korea: discovering just how much the world really has to offer. 

WHENEVER someone asks me what my degree is in, I swear 99.9% of the time the person’s response is guided by a perplexed look—‘What do you wanna do…teach?” —which is always met by a very annoyed facial expression on my end. So one day I just stopped playing off my irritation by responding, “Maybe,” and started telling people how many doors a Literature degree can actually open.

You may have heard Michelle Obama highlighting the importance of the arts recently. Her views are those which we all should live by, especially here in Barbados. Many of us, older and younger, question if Barbados even has a cultural identity anymore, and that has much to do with the fact that we do not put enough emphasis on the arts, a dynamic which America's First Lady very articulately explains:

“The arts and humanities define who we are as a people.  That is their power—to remind us of what we each have to offer, and what we all have in common.  To help us understand our history and imagine our future.  To give us hope in the moments of struggle and to bring us together when nothing else will.”

Cultural identity is within the artist, within the creative mind, within the history and the understanding of community. Still, it is often the humanities student whose role in society gets reduced. It wasn't that long ago that some people in Barbados were debating whether or not to get rid of humanities subjects at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, and put more focus on Math, Business, Management, and the like. A suggestion like this is as culturally crippling as it is startling. If people don't see the need for the humanities, then we have already started to lose our power, our individuality. Subjects from the humanities department are the bedrock of cultural growth: even if the humanities student does not go down an artistic career path, she has a fundamental understanding of the need for culture, making her potentially one of our future visionaries.

A Lit degree, for example, is a great foundation for just about anything. This is because the degree covers the key characteristics that employers say they want: critical thinking, good verbal and written communication skills, great organizational skills, excellent research skills...and the ability to tackle issues across various social, political, cultural, and historical contexts.

If you’re anything like me, fresh out of university and not really sure what’s your next move, just know that you have an array of potential moves that you can make. One of the most common job markets for Lit majors is the media, whether it be reporting, broadcasting or blogging. The well-rounded Lit major may have such an extensive control over the English language that a career in journalism often seems like the next obvious step. He knows how to make a compelling story and how to sculpt language to suit a given audience because he has studied it for so long. Obviously, these qualities are assets to anyone looking to be an editor or a publisher, too.

Fellow and sister Lit majors, our options are not limited. We do not even have to stick within a literary field! We have the skills to tackle acting, PR work, law cases, politics, business, international relations, and much more. So many Lit majors have gone on to thrive in these areas by furthering their studies, specializing, or getting experience in other job arenas. It’s time to revamp the negative associations with humanities subjects and recognize the potential for greater cultural growth. But don't take my word for it. Here are just a few Lit majors who have gone on to be game changers in their fields.

Wentworth Miller, who is a highly acclaimed actor mostly recognized for his role as Michael Scofield on the hit TV series Prison Break, received his BA in Literature from Princeton University.

Joan Rivers, who passed away in 2014, built her career on comedy. Also known for television hosting, acting, writing, and producing, she got a BA in Literature and Anthropology from Bernard College. She is remembered in the entertainment industry for her outspokenness and wit.

Justin Trudeau, who is Canada’s current Prime Minister, graduated with a BA in Literature from McGill University.  When asked last year why his Cabinet was half female and half male, he replied: “Because it’s 2015.”

Mitt Romney, who ran for the American presidency, got a BA in English from Brigham Young University. He was the 70th governor of Massachusetts and is the co-founder of a multi-million-dollar company called Bain Capital.

Susan Wojcicki, who is the current CEO of YouTube, got her BA in History and Literature from Harvard. She is known for rising through the ranks of Google by becoming their first marketing manager and handling their purchase of YouTube. 

Clarence Thomas, who is an associate judge in the Supreme Court of the United States, got a BA in English Literature from Holy Cross College. He is the second African-American to serve on the Supreme Court.