When I was an English major at Penn State Harrisburg, I wanted to be something different every semester. As a freshman, I wanted to become a teacher. When I was a sophomore, the goal was to become a librarian. Then there was a period right before my junior year when I got really into “Mad Men” and thought copywriting was my destiny. My 19-year-old self didn’t understand why making major life decisions based on an AMC show was a bad idea.
Part of the reason my imagination ran wild was because what I wanted to be was a writer, but, growing up, I never had anyone explain to me that writing is a useful skill, and it could be something more than just a hobby if I pursued it with passion.
I come from a long line of blue-collar workers: electricians, mechanics and truckers. I wouldn’t say I’m the black sheep of the family. I’m related to several farmers, and they know what sheep are like. However, if a UFO were to show up and start making weird designs in a nearby cornfield, and the locals had trouble deciding what to do with said UFO, I might identify with the space aliens.
I’ve always had a lot of people who believed in me, and, for that, I will always be grateful, but I never had anyone help me explore my strengths and weaknesses. I never had anyone say, “This is good, but you can do BETTER.” Until I entered the Penn State Harrisburg School of Humanities, I had no idea what my goals for my education were or how to achieve them.
I was the student who wanted to do everything. The second semester of my junior year, I was taking a lot of journalism classes. This fell outside the realm of my English degree and led me to explore the world of communications. I realized I wanted to also learn photography, graphic design and web layout, yet I wasn’t ready to give up on literature or creative writing either. I began to wonder—would it be possible for me to double major at Penn State Harrisburg?
The next several months were spent writing emails and meeting with instructors in both the English and communications departments. Never once did anyone tell me I couldn’t have it all. Instead, I was met with nothing but positive encouragement from professors who were willing to sit down with me, look at my credits, and help me devise a plan to double major while still graduating within four years.
During this time, I was taking a class where the instructor said something that shocked me. She said students studying the arts were the only students still receiving an education in the traditional sense. True education is pursuing knowledge for knowledge’s sake. In contrast, many students majoring in the sciences or math or technology study for a specific career path.
At the time, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this because it meant having to admit that I didn’t know what job I might land after college. I could almost hear my parents’ collective gasp— “What did we send you to college for if not to get a job?”
What I didn’t realize was my professor wasn’t telling me an English degree meant I couldn’t get a job. She was explaining an English degree meant more than just a job. It meant critical thinking, an appreciation for art, and the opportunity to see the world from multiple perspectives.
I did, in fact, start a career in publishing right after college, and I was grateful to have knowledge from a wide variety of classes. Yet, what helped me the most were not the skills learned in my web design workshops or Writing and Rhetoric 101. What now keeps me going from 9-to-5 (and sometimes long after) is my love of writing—not just the act of it but the celebration of the written word in all its many forms.
My education at Penn State Harrisburg taught me passion. I learned this as much during class as I did after hours when professors sat with me to go over the strengths and weaknesses in my papers and when I met with my English advisor and was encouraged to check out classes that were outside my original major. It was these moments that were most valuable to me after graduation.
Society will tell us that a career is mandatory, and, as a consequence, we think society is also telling us that art, passion and love for what you do isn’t. However, anyone with a humanities degree will tell you a different story. No one I met in college told me I couldn’t have it all, and, because of that, I left Penn State Harrisburg with two degrees—and I managed to get an education (and a job) in the process.
Rachel Ginder is a 2014 graduate of Penn State Harrisburg and now works in the academic journals department at Penn State University Press (University Park campus). She is a book reviewer for Publisher’s Weekly and a contributing writer for Literally, Darling and Elite Daily.