Why Pursuing an English Degree Matters

Wingate Alumnus and English major Adam Raskoskie, who is now a technical course developer and instructional designer, wrote and delivered the following speech about how pursuing a degree in English at Wingate has helped his career and his personal growth.

Adam Raskoskie’s Words of Advice for the 2013 Sigma Tau Delta Initiates and English Majors:

     When I was asked to speak to you today, I was excited, but I also felt a little anxiety. I loved my time at Wingate as an English major, and I still value the relationships I formed with my fellow students and Wingate’s amazing English faculty. However, since I’ve graduated, I’ve transitioned into the corporate world, and who wants to hear about working in a cubicle?

     I soon I realized I was anxious for no reason. The fact of the matter is that everyone who majors in English doesn’t go on to be a teacher or a novelist or a professor. Being any of those is a wonderful and incredibly valuable thing, of course, but not all English students can or even want to pursue those paths. I’m here to tell you that your lives can take off in any direction, and studying literature and language in college is still worth it. There are at least two reasons for this.

     The first is that you will graduate from college knowing how to write and write well. Once you leave the university, you’re going to realize what a rare and highly valued skill this is. The reason that so many job descriptions require “excellent written communication skills” is because those skills are so highly prized and getting harder and harder to find. We live in an age of email and text messaging, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve outgrown the need for the coherent, precise written word. I’ve worked as a corporate trainer since I left Wingate, and my English degree has been invaluable in this regard. It’s helped me write with the clarity and accuracy that are necessary to teach someone else how to perform a task. You will graduate with those same tools in your possession.

     The second reason why majoring in English is valuable is a little softer than the first one. It doesn’t have to do with concrete, resume-bullet-point skills so much as it does wisdom, which is harder to nail down. By majoring in English, you are learning to see the world through the lens of the best minds that our intellectual history has to offer. I think that reading deeply and widely is the best preparation for life that you can get. By soaking in novels and poetry, you are exposing yourself to situations beyond your experience, people that you wouldn’t meet in the course of daily life, and places you’ve never visited and that might not even exist. No matter what you do after college, this is going to stick with you and be the framework through which you understand life. The critical thinking and interpretation skills that you’ve learned will only continue to grow as you continue living and reading and creating your own way.

     I’m going to close by quoting from a letter written by one of my favorite authors, Ursula K. LeGuin. In this letter, she is talking about writers, but I think what she says also applies to readers and lovers of literature. This is kind of a long quotation, but she expresses this thought so beautifully that there’s really no point in paraphrasing:

Socrates said, "The misuse of language induces evil in the soul." He wasn't talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies. Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth.

     A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.

Thank you.
Adam Raskoskie
Wingate Alumnus, 2009