There’s been a subtle kind of discrimination going on, and it’s one that I began experiencing long before I entered Georgetown’s hallowed halls. When people ask me what I am and I respond, I am met with incredulous stares and judgment all around. What am I?
An English and history double major.
I remember a conversation I had with one of my fellow Hoyas on our walk back from Leo’s. He was talking about his big dreams for the future, complete with a colonial-style house and his very own theater room.
“Damn, I’d love that,” I said wistfully. And his response?
“But let’s be real, how can you expect to have that on an English or history major’s salary?”
The question was a small jab made in jest, but what people, especially ambitious Hoyas, don’t realize is that their one-time comments are never really just one time. Whenever talk of school comes up, any student with a major not known for financial success stories can expect the same reaction from their peers and from their elders.
With a list of literary awards on my high school resume, I have been asked by fellow Hoyas how I ever got into Georgetown with such meager qualifications. I have been asked by friends at home why someone as smart as me would make such a mediocre move. Twice. English and history? I couldn’t have at least balanced one topic with a major more directly tailored for a career?
Those of us seeking a more liberal-arts-type education have to justify ourselves in ways that students in other schools at Georgetown often do not. It might feel that the critical comments we receive are reasonable; after all, not being in a trade school indeed makes it more daunting when contemplating my next steps into the real world.
For a long time, I wouldn’t tell my friends or people I’d just met what my majors were. I would have rather told them that I was undeclared than voice the names of the subjects that personally got my brain to change gears. Whenever I did admit it, my cheeks would flush in embarrassment as someone made a snide comment about the diminishing prospects of my future.
I often kept silent so that people would collectively stop badgering me and stop asking me how I’d support myself once I left Georgetown and had to financially fend for myself.
My first semester at college, I had a breakdown like most other freshmen probably face, complete with a round of tears and a pig-out session at Epicurean to quell my sorrow. I severely reprimanded myself for choosing Georgetown. How could I come to such an expensive place only to study such financially dooming subjects? How could I prove my intelligence to anyone if I’d already risked choosing something so fiscally unstable?
But this summer as I’ve begun interning for a literary agency, I finally find myself more at peace with the decisions I’ve made thus far.
When I come to work, I help read manuscripts that will potentially turn into polished books down the line. I am exposed to writers old and new who are dipping their toes into the literary world and hoping like me to come out unscathed. I help maintain a system that delivers something jointly tangible and intangible to people around the globe, online and in print. I know that these words laid out on a page or across a screen will have an impact on someone somewhere, changing perspectives and altering thoughts in a way more profound than money alone can do. I’m just a small cog in a large literary machine, and that position is a humbling one.
Anyone who’s heard of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is probably familiar with the comedic answer to life, the universe, and everything: apparently, it’s 42. That by itself is puzzling enough, but author Douglass Adams leaves us with an even bigger mystery; what in seven hells is the ultimate question to life, the universe, and everything that precedes this answer? In his story, the earth was created as a kind of organic supercomputer to address this very problem, and the experience of every human being played a small part in eventually solving that riddle.
I don’t pretend Adams’s novel always accurately portrays the world we live in, but he exposes a very piercing point. Some would say my majors are not the smart answer, others would say they’re not the right answer – before agreeing or disagreeing, I’d first like to figure out during my time at Georgetown what questions I should be asking myself to begin with.
There’s the obvious fear that I’ll regret it when I’m older and might not be able to afford a certain way of living – but perhaps I’m carving for myself exactly the kind of life I want to live, and to be privileged enough to even have that chance leaves me with no regrets.
When I go to work in New York City every day, I look out at the same cityscape as all the head honchos and corporate bigwigs out there. Perhaps it’s not as high up in the clouds, but down at this level I can see people bustling about and I still feel connected to the things that truly matter to me.
By no means am I saying that business students and anybody else in a trade school have it all wrong. What I’m saying is that to tell us, the English and history majors, that we’ll never have it right is unwarranted. To kick us before we’re even down has dissuaded countless would-be artists, writers, and creative thinkers, as it has dissuaded me from embracing what I love over the last several years.
Thus, this inaugural column and its successors shall be dedicated to anybody with a passion they might be too embarrassed to share. It’s for ambitious extroverts doing business by day and grinding away on Clash of Clans by night. It’s for quirky introverts intrigued by the past, present, and future, whether that comes in the form of science, history, English, or anything in between. Perhaps these confessions will not be as revelatory or as far-reaching as Saint Augustine’s, but they have a like-minded purpose in hoping to convince others through my own experiences to embrace a more honest way of life.
Hannah Kaufman is a rising junior in the College. Confessions of a Closet Geek appears every other Monday at thehoya.com.