By Caroline Eng
It is graduation season, and thousands of liberal arts majors across the United States are receiving their Bachelor’s degrees in either Arts or Science. As these graduates depart from academia, they will carry their educations with them into the working world. Liberal arts and sciences graduates from Fordham University, Barnard College, Muhlenberg College, McGill University, and the University of Chicago weigh in on how their undergraduate experience has shaped how they think and, ultimately, made them into stronger people.
Only two of the six graduates interviewed will be heading directly to grad school. The rest are, at least for the time being, leaving academia. However, these graduates have a lot to say about what they value and will miss about academic studies.
Katie Mitchell, a media and communications major at Muhlenberg, said “I’m going to miss hearing the different perspectives of my peers, reading academic articles, and analyzing them on a level I never would if I read them by myself.” Joanna Connolly, who studied music and English at Fordham, commented, “I’m going to miss the explorative approach of academics—doesn’t matter how obscure the material is, you just fall in love with critical thinking.” Across the board, these students appreciated the intellectual challenge of learning in a liberal arts school. They never felt stagnant while studying because classes propelled them to new levels of thought.
This mentality, as these students have already discovered, will aid them in all facets of life. Cam Buzard said of his undergraduate experience at Barnard, “I loved being around people who have the ability to think critically about everything in our lives, such as TV, music, and choice of commencement speaker, not just what we’re exposed to in classes.” Buzard continued, “I’ve learned to think critically about the things in my life, rather than just accepting them as the only way things should be.”
Students in the liberal arts learn how to use their education to navigate the world at large. They do so thoughtfully and with an informed vision of how to make that world better.
The ability to be critical, forward thinking, and proactive extends to how these students view themselves. Connolly reflected on her undergraduate experience as a time of profound personal growth: “I loved learning more about myself—asking myself what I want and why I wanted it. It was a great time to sort things out.” When asked about how they have grown since entering college, the graduates interviewed unanimously found themselves more confident, outgoing, and secure in themselves. They had this to say:
“I’ve become more extraverted and definitely more sure and aware of myself and my identity.” – Lucy Yang, McGill University
“I am more outgoing and more willing to go new places or try new things.”
– Emma Reishus, University of Chicago
“I have been more outgoing and more motivated.” – Marissa Sblen, Fordham University
On the flip side of that confidence is also an awareness of how much there still is to learn. As Connolly observed, “I’ve found that I take people more for who they are, and I also am much more aware of how much I really just don’t know!” This statement, which could be mistaken for a admission of ignorance, is actually evidence of a way of seeing the world as an opportunity to learn and to continue learning. Part of a liberal arts education is being exposed to many different kinds of knowledge. This exposure teaches students to keep their eyes open for what they have yet to discover.
Carrying these lessons forward, this group of graduates has varied, far-reaching dreams and ambitions that they are prepared to realize. They want to work in medicine, media production, musical theatre, computer science, and education. With the perspectives afforded to them by a strong liberal arts education, they move forward with open eyes and capable hands into a future that they will shape.
Caroline Eng is a junior at Fordham College at Lincoln Center majoring in English. Fordham is home to the Tau of New York Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.