University of Virginia Drama alumna Tina Fey, star of NBC's "30 Rock" and "Saturday Night Live"
This past summer, I was an event intern for the alumni reunions at the University of Virginia. Since it was the summer before my last year of college, I was really interested in asking alumni who were coming back after 30+ years what they thought of the education they received at Mr. Jefferson's University.
A man came up to my table to check in, and he looked so happy to be back in Charlottesville. He was sporting a vintage woolen dark blue U.Va. sweatshirt, with a orange collared shirt underneath, freshly pressed khakis, and a brand new pair of brown boat shoes. He was the definitely the manifestation of southern prep, and looked like he had finally arrived home.
When he excitedly asked me what I studied, I answered hesitantly, "Drama and Media Studies." During my time in college, it seems like everyone I tell my majors to almost immediately either ask if I was sure I could get a job or would ask what my parents thought of them.
Considering my mother has passed away, and I haven't had communication with my dad in years, that's always a difficult question to answer. Both for me, and the person asking.
The judgement I expected to come dripping from this alumnus's mouth did not come true; rather, the opposite occurred. He said, "Wow, that's so awesome! You know Tina Fey, Katie Couric, and the producers of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Dead Poets Society all took classes or majored in Drama while at the University of Virginia. Don't worry bud, you'll be fine!"
My mouth was literally wide open from the sheer shock and joy of validation that I had just received. I looked at him with the most earnest of preparation in my next question, and asked him what his major was while he was at the University of Virginia.
He said, "I actually studied Politics, but now I am the Chief Financial Officer of a Fortune 500 company, and I couldn't be happier. The only regret I have was letting my parents dictate my passions and what I should study when I was in school here; but none the less, I found my way."
This chord struck deeper in me than I thought any experience could while working at a college alumni event. It was almost as if the universe had placed him there in that moment to give me the hope and strength that I would need to not only get through fourth-year, but also to get a job in the field that I love and find happiness in.
After a couple more minutes of small talk and registration forms, he was on his way, and I felt much more confident about going into my last year at the University of Virginia. Although I am so grateful for this experience, and how it truly gave me a great deal of confidence going forward, it does not negate the fact that there is still a ridiculous stigma in higher education that one's major defines who you are and how your life will unfurl.
Last week I was at the University of Virginia Career Fair that helps get graduating students full time jobs after walking down the Lawn in May. From what I've heard from friends last year, people got offers from the White House, the FBI, Art Museums, Wealth Management Firms, and Architecture Firms, even some positions with starting six figure salary offers. It was awesome to hear that all of these newly employed students came from a vast array of different academic backgrounds and majors.
Needless to say, I was excited to go in and see what was waiting for me. In front of me in line was a boy who seemed way too young to be at a fourtht-year career fair. I looked at him and observed his body language, posture, and speaking habits for a couple minutes. To some this may be creepy, to others it's what we call being a Drama Major.
After a few minutes of NSA-like observation, I finally deduced that he was not a fourth-year by his vocal mannerisms, his lack of self-awareness, and overall youthful demeanor. I kindly got his attention and asked him what year he was, he responded as I had suspected, he was in his first semester of college. Although I know his intentions being there were good, I was annoyed that he was in a line to see recruiters at a graduating fourth-year hiring session, specifically to fill full-time positions for the coming year.
Needless to say, I brought this up to the him. He responded with a very curt and pompous, "Whatever." I said," No, Mr. first-year, it's not 'whatever'. You should really give this opportunity to the students who have worked hard for all four years to get a job, and come back when the internship fair is going on, because those exist for the undergraduate students to get summer work and such. This is not a networking event to get your name out there, ya know?" Sometimes I rant to first-year students, it's just a thing.
Noticing that his image of perfection and all-knowingness might be on the line, he turned around and looked at me up and down, almost as if he was trying to find flaws with which he could expound on or tear me down for. I simply chuckled a bit, it's always funny when the first-years try to assert their dominance for no reason.
He took a minute, paused, and asked me what I studied. I told him, and he literally gave a voiced faux-chuckle and said "OKAY," and turned back around. With his back to me, I asked him what major he had chosen to pursue, since first-year students at the University of Virginia can't declare their majors yet.
He majestically declared that he was "Pre-Comm," which in U.Va. terminology means that they are on the track for applying to the McIntire School of Commerce which is currently ranked second among the nation's best undergraduate business programs, according to the annual Bloomberg Business week rankings. More so, it is commonly understood than when you graduate from the McIntire School of Commerce, you are guaranteed a job. With this, I quite often observe students in the Commerce program "other" students who study other subjects.
This is not necessarily the behavior or actions of every student who studies Commerce, but in my personal experiences and journey at the University of Virginia, it has been a very observable and present stereotype. It was almost as if this Commerce hopeful in line with us took hold of that stereotype, and felt that if he wanted to get into the program, this was the way he had to act and present himself. These experiences in themselves create a type of self-fulfilling prophecy of exclusivity.
I told him that while yes, the Commerce school is an amazing place for business, that the world needs more than just business to function. It needs languages, arts, history, creativity, and an ability to think critically and to be self-aware. Which all comes from receiving a well-rounded education, not just graduating business school and thinking you're going to obtain instant success and be a wolf of Wall Street.
He looked at me for a minute, and really wondered what I had said, almost as if I had challenged the conditioning he had received most of his life, and during his time at U.Va. He said, "Well if I don't come to the job fair today, what am I supposed to do?" Maybe to him, this answer seemed beyond comprehension, but for me, it was more than easy to find. I looked at him and said, "Go to the library and do your homework! You have three more years here!" He nervously laughed, and left the line with a couple of his friends, where he went, one can only wonder.
Do I think the stigma surrounding studying subjects like Drama, Music, Art, and Languages in college, and the fear of not getting jobs after graduation will ever go away? I don't know, but I sure hope so. Because the next time I hear someone who judges these majors complain about shows on TV being lackluster and stupid, like Jersey Shore and Honey Boo Boo Child, I'm going to call them out. The people whose majors they are judging, are the same individuals who have attended school to learn how to create and produce critical and thought-provoking art and culture like 30 Rock, Game of Thrones, and Dead Poets Society.
Could we as a society be discouraging the existence of our future award winning artists by perpetuating this idea of "othering" different majors that aren't established as "bread-winners?" At the end of the day, it's not the major you choose that gets you a job, it's how you implement the education you gained through the pursuit of knowledge and truth in higher education. #AllMajorsAreCreatedEqual