Let the Humanities Live On

Laura D'Angelo

I  am in the seven percent. Don’t worry – I’m not trying to kick start a second wave of the Occupy movement. Rather, I’m in the seven percent of students nationwide who will graduate next spring with a bachelor’s degree in the humanities. There has never been a time when the value of a major in the humanities has been so hotly contested. And, with the national unemployment rate now at roughly seven percent, many anti-humanities syndicates might argue that I’ll never escape this number.

Now, just to throw you another curveball, I’m not even an English or Art History major. I’m a Classics major. So maybe that puts me in the .4 percent or some other ridiculously small, almost obscure number. Some might ask at this point: do you have any hopes of having a career one day, i.e. one that doesn’t involve reciting lines of Plato or Propertius? Unfortunately, although Latin, Greek, or both, were once requirements in higher education, they have now become classified as “dead” languages that serve no purpose beyond academia. However, one need only look to medicine, law, international relations, economics or even Colgate’s motto to see the relevance of these ancient languages and the extent to which they still permeate our society today. All physicians still take the Hippocratic Oath, written in Greek by Hippocrates, the father of western medicine; the legal world is abounding with Latin and Greek terms, such as subpoenaand pro bono; many current international relations policies can be traced back to the Greek Thucydides, the original political scientist; and no economics lecture would be complete without the mention of per capita. Of course, Colgate’s motto, deo ac veritati (for god and truth), is no exception.

So, with all these modern-day connections to the ancient world, why is Classics – and humanities in general – seen as irrelevant? If anything, I think the humanities should be considered more relevant now than ever. Although there has been much greater emphasis on STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) – which are undoubtedly extremely important – nothing can take the place of sound writing, analytical and interpersonal skills. This is not to say that people who study more technical disciplines are lacking these skills; rather, I think that any student can benefit from taking humanities classes in which critical thinking is encouraged through the Socratic method of inquiry and discussion. And, trust me, decoding a Latin sentence can be just as gratifying as solving a math problem and teaches you all the overlooked, yet incredibly important, rules of English grammar at the same time. So, biggest question of the day – will these analytical and verbal and written communication skills pay off in the end? Although humanities degrees are generally viewed as unmarketable, the current rate of unemployment for Latin majors is 7.9 percent, whereas the rate for computer science majors is 7.8 percent. Economics? 9.4 percent. Drama and theater arts? 7.8 percent. There is clearly no set major or path to follow for securing a job. Instead, I’ve come to realize that it’s more important to do well by studying something you thoroughly enjoy and developing in-demand skills that can be relevant for any position. Dead or not, Classics has shown me how a major can transform your college experience. Let the humanities live on.