Convocation 2024—Where Do We Go from Here?

Convocation season has recently come to a close, culminating in a successful in-person and remote ceremony for the class of 2024.  This year, a total of “1,950 graduates from 43 programs … received degrees, diplomas, and certificates.”

I am among these 1,950 graduates, having received my bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Political Science.  As excited as I am for the future, many of us in the faculty of English are surely not strangers to the adage that this is not the most economically viable degree.

I strongly object to this statement, as I (albeit with a certain bias) consider English to be one of the most versatile degrees, one in which a learner can pursue their passions while surviving—and thriving—economically.  (Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  This, of course, leads to a wider discussion about what we value as a society and who deserves a living wage.  The answer, for me, is all types of lived experiences and everyone—with or without degrees and including those who pursued their interests).  For those curious about the statistics, at AU, the average age of ENGL graduates is 33, with an 89% employment rate, a $65,000 median income, and a 95% satisfaction rate.

During the course of our AU ENGL studies in this program, we “analyze[d] forms, styles and ideas of a variety of literary theories, from feminist to post-colonial, improve[d our] skills in critical thinking, interpretation, and writing, [and] gain[d] a better understanding of the global spread of English, both in language and in literature.”

A wide range of courses are available, including ENGL 308: Indigenous Literature in Canada, ENGL 341: World Literature, ENGL 351: Comparative Canadian Literature, ENGL 361: Harlem Renaissance, ENGL 458: The Latin American Novel, ENGL 491: Directed Studies in Literature, and ENGL 492: The Work of Research, Writing, and Publishing: Special Project.  Many of these are my personal favourites, including ENGL 491 and ENGL 492, in which I focused on some favourite topics, related to linguistic hybridity, memory, dictatorship, and the Latin American novel.

While convocation surely inspired me to think about my past few years of study in this particular program, the main inspiration for this piece came as I was researching a notable Canadian author Michael Ondaatje for a recent “Beyond Literary Landscapes” column.  Ondaatje graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English, and later taught literature at my former university in Toronto.

I was inspired to do further research on which other notable individuals had graduated in my field of study.  I was curious to where their lived experiences and their degrees had taken them post-graduation.  Not surprisingly, I found a long line of artists, such as writers, poets, actors, and directors.  However, I also found a great deal of politicians and business professionals.  In sum, all sorts of people.

Notable English Literature/Comparative Literature degree holders include authors Billy-Ray Belcourt, Joshua Whitehead, Gloria E.  Anzaldúa, as well as Eudora Welty, Amy Tan, Allen Ginsberg, and Douglas Adams.  Famous actors with a degree in English include Harrison Ford, Joan Cusack, Matt Damon, Vin Diesel, and David Duchovny.  Other examples of English degree holders include current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US astronaut Sally Ride.

As for me?   I paired my English degree with a minor in Political Science, with a focus on Spanish.  In particular, this degree has helped me better navigate my current profession, as it builds upon past studies.  For several years, I have been working as an editor, as well as, more recently, a grammar tutor.  In addition, since English is my third language, this degree helped me better understand my own linguistic hybridity, reflect on the power dynamics of language, further understand the spread/current domination of English through the processes of colonialism and imperialism, as well as consider what happens to languages across borders.

Finally, AU’s online accessible mandate, as well as ample degree offerings, allowed me to continue my education after illness and disability derailed by studies at a traditional brick and mortar university.  Remote study, as well as remote work opportunities in my chosen fields of studies, were a lifeline for me, allowing me to support myself economically, while doing what I love.

In the past several months, I have started to expand upon my love of the nuances of language by moving toward translation.  I hope to be ready to apply for graduate school in Translation Studies by February.  As a class of 2024 graduate, I join a long line of English majors pursuing their passions and creating their own little niches in the world.