Good morning everyone! We have a guest post today from Kaarina Mikalson. You might remember Kaarina from my post on the brightness of the future. I have had the great good fortune and privilege of getting to know Kaarina for the last three years. She is graduating with a humanities degree. Here’s what she has to say about that.
In just a few weeks, I will be graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English. I will set aside my modesty for just a moment and confess that I am pretty proud of myself. Not that I am alone in my success–I have many friends who have worked harder than me to obtain their own degrees. And I certainly didn’t do it alone. I received support and encouragement from my family, friends, and, most significantly, the wonderful professors and grad students in my departments. All the same, I approach graduation day with much relief and much pride in my accomplishments.
So it is still a little galling how many people readily cast doubt on my accomplishments. First and second year students still struggling to choose their own path are always reminding me just how useless they think the liberal arts are, disparaging my choice as well as their own. Strangers and family friends impolitely question my life choices, asking the old familiar question, “And what are you going to do with that?” Recently, I took the time to explain the awesome work I do as a research assistant to a family member, only to be told, “Oh, that’s just busy work. Nobody really cares about that.” Only a few days ago, I argued with another family member, who insisted that you gain no practical skills by completing an arts degree, and all it really is is a piece of paper marking you out as mildly competent.
But if there is one thing my undergraduate degree has helped me develop, it’s confidence, and as a result I can confront these criticisms without backing down. Reflecting on the last four years, I have no regrets, and I can recognize the value in what I have done. Besides, any good liberal arts student knows that what we do have are critical thinking skills, and I can use these to see through the negative criticisms flung my way. Younger students most likely speak out of nervousness and self-doubt, and maybe what they need is an upper year student who will encourage them and support their choices. Many people have different values and priorities than me, and perhaps in blatantly questioning my life choices they are genuinely interested in hearing my ideas. Some people’s criticisms are just a projection of their own anxieties. And that comment about busy work? Well, as far as I can tell, that was just plain rude. If you can think of a good retort, let me know.
What I find most interesting about the debate surrounding university education is how focused it is on academics and career training. Many of those outside of universities easily forget that studying and teaching is not all that goes on there. A university is a community full of smaller communities. When you enrol, you have so many opportunities to learn and engage outside the classroom. I have many friends who will take a bit longer to finish their degrees because they were coordinating whole seasons of theatre, managing campus bars, fighting to lower tuition fees and reduce student debt, organizing fundraisers, founding orchestras, and working as activists for the environment, for women’s rights , for LGBTQ rights. Some even find ways to balance all these other interests and their full class loads in order to complete their degrees on time. If our degrees gives us access to these kind of opportunities, then who can say they aren’t valuable?
Of course, these kinds of communities exist outside of the university, but the university enables and supports this kind of engagement. And though we graduate and leave the classroom behind, I am certain that these students will continue to engage with these communities. I have alwas been more academically inclined, and my activities outside the classroom have been minimal. All the same, I have received tremendous opportunities, including being accepted into the digital humanities community and learning a whole new range of skills. Because of all this, I approach my graduation with hope, pride, and absolutely no doubt in the value of my degree and the institution I receive it from.