On the goodness of a liberal arts education

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Being an adult is hard. Job searching is hard. Acquiring a job turns out to be even harder.

In a time when jobs seem scarce and degrees mean a whole lot, I sometimes find myself wondering if my English degree from Hillsdale College and my liberal arts education really mean anything. I wonder if I should have done something more practical: nursing, business, accounting.

A Hillsdale degree can get you a job almost immediately in the small little worlds of classical education or groups that defend liberty and freedom, but in what I am now experiencing as “the real world,” I am tempted to regret my degree, to think that it does nothing and gets me nothing. And the ugly monster of utility rears its heads.

I didn’t pay thousands of dollars and spend four years in the seeming tundra of Michigan for a paycheck. I didn’t give my life to the study of the Great Books, of language and writing and beauty, for the sake of a salary. Even if I spent the rest of my life searching for a job, feeling undervalued and overlooked because of my degree, it would still be worth the time and money and I would make the same investment over and over and over again. I like to think I am employable, but I didn’t ultimately choose a liberal arts degree in order to get a job.

I am coming to realize: however nice and necessary they are in this life, stability, a salary, and a comfortable life are not the purpose—the end—of existence. I’m not advocating irresponsibility. I currently work a job I don’t love for the sake of a salary and the means to survive. But what I would say to myself and to every other Hillsdale student and student of the liberal arts: your studies are worthwhile. Your degree means more than the value that this materialistic, outcome-driven working world assigns.

A liberal arts degree is not void of “practical,” “useful” skills. I am also not saying that they are worthless to employers; in fact, liberal arts graduates are probably some of the best employees because they were taught how to think, read, write, and observe. Even so, my liberal arts degree will probably never get me a high-paying job. It may never mean much to most employers, and I may be overlooked because of it. But its value over the course of my life will only increase.

I don’t regret my liberal arts degree because it makes this world and this life more beautiful and more meaningful. My Hillsdale College education trained my sight: it enlarged my vision of the world and of other people. It taught me there are huge and beautiful ideas to spend our lives pursuing and treasuring. It taught me that even in the midst of instability, uncertainty, and the pressures and responsibilities of adulthood seemingly smothering our lives, there is more to be desired than just surviving this daily existence. There is life to be discovered—and lived—as we journey into the fullness of what it means to be human.

The liberal arts education I received at Hillsdale College taught me how to live well. It taught me how to see beauty in the midst of uncertain times like these. It helps me to love my husband and our little baby better; it opens my eyes to the goodness of a novel and an evening spent in quiet contemplation; it teaches me to pursue truth and to ask the great questions in this life, even when they go unanswered.

Life isn’t about a paycheck. It isn’t about stability or investments or comfort. Life is a trek—a perilous road—into the fullness of what it means to be human. It is a stripping away of those things that are antithetical to who we were created to be. It is a gaining of the virtues and character that return us to our humanity. It is a lesson in seeing each human being for who they are, not for who we assign them to be or who our experience dictates they ought to be. It is a purposeful and passionate pursuit of that which is the source of all Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. It is a discovery of and a growing into charity, and of Charity Himself who teaches us what it means to truly be human.

So instead of regretting my liberal arts education and my English degree, I remember again that I would trade a hundred salaries and a hundred high-power positions for the unquantifiable value I gained at Hillsdale College. She guided me on the path to truth and beauty and a life well-lived, and that will bring more ultimate happiness than any job or title or degree could ever provide.

(Hillsdale College did not commission me to write this post. I write it out of gratitude and with the hopes that some other liberal arts majors like myself would take courage, even when the “real world” seems to overlook the true value of our education.)

4 thoughts on “On the goodness of a liberal arts education

  1. Gretchen Spencer

    Very true! I’ve often felt the same thing. Reminding myself of exactly what you wrote has helped me to keep perspective on what really matters in life, even through several job hunts. I hope you’re doing well. I found your blog through Rebekah’s and have enjoyed reading it. 🙂

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