"Owning Your English Degree": Kelly King's 2012 Commencement Speech
Kelly King delivered an inspiring commencement speech on the wide possibilities for the English major at the department ceremony held on May 21st, 2012. Read the full text here.
Good Morning. Welcome faculty, family, friends and my fellow graduates who I know, just like myself, are ecstatic this day has finally come.
So now what?
Now what after, we’ve heard our names read aloud and have proudly walked across this stage.
Now what after, our friends and family have congratulated us and told us how proud they are of what we’ve accomplished.
But now what, after all the colorful graduation clichés have disappeared.
Know that what awaits us is a world that desperately needs us.
Our leadership, our imagination, our persistence and yes even our rhetorical skills.
But also know that what awaits us is doubt – doubt that we made the most of our time here at College Park.
That quite honestly choosing to be pursue a degree in English was a misstep, a terrible blunder.
That our mounds of red ink stained assignments are nothing more than proof of a bad investment.
This widely accepted misconception that majoring in English is a waste of time and money stems from that age-old question that will forever haunt us, “What can you do with a degree in English?”
I must say I was once guilty of asking this same question.
Admittedly, it was my own ignorance to this question’s answers that drove me to take my talents to South Beach, of course for a slightly different reason; I’m a couple of inches too short for the NBA. (That was a joke, you can laugh) and pursue a business degree my freshman year at one of our fellow ACC schools.
Upon graduating high school, I was fixated on becoming a business mogul. I had received countless business awards and I was going to my first choice school for marketing – I was on top of the world.
Yet during my freshmen year, I felt incredibly unfulfilled and unhappy. In retrospect, this wasn’t my dream. I didn’t want to major in business. I just wanted to make sure I could get a job.
You see writing is my passion, but at the time I didn’t know it also could be my livelihood. It’s funny, not even my dissatisfaction with my business major was enough to make me overcome my fear of majoring in English.
Ironically, it took one brief and harmless conversation with Ms. Rosoff for me to finally garner up the courage to pursue an education in English. Ms. Rosoff, who by far was my most influential teacher when I attended Baltimore City College high school, always had a way with words, she was of course an English teacher.
But what struck me the most with Ms. Rosoff was how sure and confident she was in her profession. Universities were calling her left and right to come join their faculty, to which she all declined, explaining that her true calling was to help high school students realize their dreams.
And for at least one of her students she accomplished just that – the kicker being I wasn’t even in high school when this happened. I had just gotten back in town for fall break, when I bumped into Ms. Rosoff.
Dejection must have been written all over my face when she asked me how college was going. She saw right through my false smiles and sensationalized lies. Finally she cut me off in mid-sentence and said, “Kelly, just go for it! Stop being silly and just write. You’ll be fine.”
She’d be proud to know, that’s exactly what I’ve done. Throwing caution to the wind, I left a full academic scholarship on the table and decided to come here my sophomore year where I knew this English department with its highly regarded faculty and resources would take my writing skills to the next level.
And I am happy to say this English department did that and so much more. You see I never lost that drive of becoming a mogul; I just wanted to redirect that energy toward something more writing oriented. Our professional writing program provided me with the perfect outlet.
Specifically my time with Professor Holden in her non-profit writing class was life changing. I rely so much on the skills and tricks I learned from that class. In fact, my final assignment for her class, a workforce development program I designed and wrote a full grant proposal for, is presently in its final stage of review with the Abell Foundation.
So fast forward to today, I currently have two jobs – one as development writer for a non-profit organization and the other as technical writer for a consulting firm.
And I ensure you these companies I work for sought me out not for my one year of coursework in business but for what I brought to the table as an English major.
I am lived proof of what you can do with a degree in English. I’ve prepared grant proposals, designed programs, and developed marketing plans. I’ve written essays on queer theory and critical race theory. I’ve even done some fiction work. And even the multifaceted ways in which I’ve excelled academically and professionally as a result of majoring in English are but the tip of the iceberg of possibilities.
OWN YOUR ENGLISH DEGREE because the opportunities for us all are truly limitless.
Communication is everything and rhetoric is everywhere so know we all have the tools and skill sets to go on to do great things in whatever field or discipline we choose.
As you begin the next phase of your journey, whether that journey leads you to graduate school, the workforce, self employment or just exploration – know that your time here as a Terrapin, pursing your English degree was not a squandered opportunity but a well calculated decision to invest in your futures while remaining true to yourselves.
So the next time someone asks you “Well, what are you going to do with a degree in that?”
Reply with this one-worded response: succeed. That’s what I tell them because that’s what I’ve done and that’s what I’ll continue to do.
Fellow graduates, today we have all arrived at a critical now what moment. Remember, the pages waiting to hold our life narratives remain blank and we each are in control of what our now what’s will be.
Our drive and determination have bought us this far, to this moment, on this day.
Let that same drive and determination carry you to your goals and dreams.
And make sure, at some point, while your crafting your life story, to remind your supporters and don’t forget our doubters what great things English majors can do.
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