Don’t dread the big question

Computer science majors will never understand. Every time humanities majors tell someone what they study they have to face the same big question: “What do you plan to do with that?”

When senior year comes around, the question becomes a curse. It is asked to be polite, but you know how many humanities majors end up working retail and it feels like the asker is mocking your passion.

If you have money, you can go to grad school. But the letter “M” instead of the letter “B” on the piece of paper doesn’t protect you from the big question. It only makes it more relevant.

Fellow humanities majors, I cannot help you answer the question, but I no longer worry about it. Not having a plan is sometimes the best plan of all. Here are three examples:

At The Daily Utah Chronicle fund-raiser dinner over Spring Break, I shared a table with a man who was among the first graduating class of the U’s school of journalism. While serving an LDS mission in France, he fell in love with the art of French tapestries. He volunteered to use his knowledge to do public relations for an expert to introduce the art to the United States. A career writing about, promoting and dealing in art was born.

My own brother had a similar experience. He majored in French horn performance at a Lutheran university in Washington. Sounds like a waste of time and money. After several months auditioning unsuccessfully for the country’s greatest symphonies, he joined the Air Force and played for one of their orchestras. The pay wasn’t good, but the benefits were.

One unforeseen benefit was hours and hours of free time to play computer games while touring. The games introduced him to computers at a level he had never experienced, and before long he was studying programming. Now he makes close to six figures and is raising a small herd of computer nerds.

My favorite story is that of Larry Small, a former secretary of the Smithsonian. Small was sent to Princeton when he was 17 to follow in his father’s and his father’s father’s footsteps. He didn’t like Princeton and didn’t want to follow in any footsteps. He moved to Spain to become one of the world’s top 10 greatest flamenco guitar players.

After a couple of years, he realized that the top 10 were all gypsies whose fathers had been the top 10 before them. He didn’t stand a chance of fulfilling his dream, but could now speak decent Spanish. His family got him a job at a bank in South America and he loved it. Before long he was in charge of a slue of banks in South America. In his free time, he collected artifacts made by Amazonian natives. He became such a prestigious collector that President Clinton decided to make him head of the Smithsonian.

In each of these stories, as unrelated as they appear, the people ended up in careers they would never have dreamed of when they graduated.

Humanities majors, you don’t need to be ashamed of not having an answer to the big question and don’t assume you’ll end up in retail. Follow your passions and let them take you to unimaginable places.

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Author’s Note: As a point of clarification, I did not intend to offend readers in my last column (“The ‘gay agenda’ is real” March 14) by referring to Nazis and Communists. I have great respect for the conviction of Human Rights Campaign supporters and in no way meant to draw a comparison.

Nor did I intend to contradict myself by asserting that sexuality should be kept private while saying that I was married with a child. My intent was to concede that sexuality is impossible to keep secret even though I believe it should not define us.

Lastly, if my column confused anyone about where I stand on the issue of tolerance, I defer to the comments of Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, while representing the conservative position on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation on March 21. He said everything I was thinking but with more compassion and respect.