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Your degree won’t define you

Steadfast Feminist.  Natalie Dulka
Steadfast Feminist. Natalie Dulka

I’ve changed my major around quite a bit while at Concordia. I came in with a declared major of music performance and theatre arts. After a semester, I changed it to political science. After yet another semester, I switched out poli-sci for English writing. Most recently, I added a women and gender studies minor. I struggled for a while, worrying that I was making the wrong choices and picking degrees that wouldn’t make me money or wouldn’t make me happy. Through all of the nights spent stressed out about what I’m doing with my life, I figured something out: your major field of study doesn’t really matter that much.

The title on the degree you earn matters far less to potential employers than the fact that you have a degree in the first place.The career path tied to your degree might be one you never walk. The career path you take might wind through multiple fields. Furthermore, the career path you take post-college doesn’t define who you are as a person. The answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” shouldn’t decide your field of study because that answer changes. Right now, when I grow up, I want to be a playwright and a mom. Six years ago, I wanted to be an infertility specialist. Three years ago, I wanted to be an opera singer and have no children. In three more years, I don’t know what I’ll want to be.

The societal pressure to study something worthwhile and get a job in that field inhibits college students’ ability and willingness to learn things that are interesting. Studying a passion of yours is often looked down on as a waste of money and time but as a student of passion, I think it creates an opportunity to learn things that others might pass over in favor of something more practical. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with studying something practical and realistic like marketing or medicine. I’m not saying that the STEM fields aren’t worthy of respect. I’m saying that theatre and music and art and women and gender studies are all worthy of the same amount of respect.

College students, especially at liberal arts institutions like this one, should be encouraged to study things that bring them joy and spark their curiosity. Young people should be encouraged to learn for the sake of knowledge instead of the sake of a potential paycheck. Your major doesn’t decide your path in life. Your career doesn’t define you. Your paycheck doesn’t determine whether or not you’re a good person. Knowing that, shouldn’t we want to spend our lives doing the things we love? We’re spending a whole lot of money for this education; shouldn’t it be in something we enjoy?

The most frequently asked question I’ve encountered in college is “What are you planning on doing with that degree?” I get a lot of rolled eyes and uncomfortable chuckles from family members, potential employers, and even strangers at parties when I tell them that I am pursuing a double major in theatre and English writing with a minor in women and gender studies. The theatre part freaks everybody out: “You can’t get a real job with a theatre degree,” they say, worried for my future as a starving artist. The women and gender studies part gets me a patronizing chuckle: “So you’re one of those girls,” they say, berating me for being impassioned. The English part a lot of people can get behind: “Oh, so you want to teach,” they say, excited that I have a respectable career picked out for myself. But I don’t want to teach.

I don’t know what I want to do with my degree. I don’t know what I’m going to do after I graduate. I don’t know how much money I’m going to make or if my degree will lead me into a field I like. I don’t know if I’ll want to work in theatre for the rest of my life. I don’t know if my degree will ever earn me a “real job” or if I’ll always want to be a playwright. All I know is that I love what I’m studying. I’m doing what I love and I love what I do. And, in my opinion, that’s what matters most.

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