Where are they now?
Some of Our Past Undergraduates Talk About Their Experiences
Raoul G. Cantero, III
Former Justice of Florida Supreme Court
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice. Cantero is the first person of Hispanic descent to sit on the court and has taught at Florida State University's College of Law
I won't lie by saying I planned it this way. My ambition was to be a writer, a novelist, a sometime-guest on The Tonight Show (then hosted by Johnny Carson). But I did plan on practicing law until I could actually make a living writing fiction. Instead, I'm an appellate lawyer planning on writing fiction someday. I have my English major to blame for that—or to thank, whichever way you want to look at it.
In my English classes at FSU, I learned the use of language, of words, to convey a message. Along my arduous way, I learned a lesson I still follow: the importance of editing and revision. Constant revision. This has been especially useful during my career. For example, working as an appellate lawyer one writes briefs for a living—legal memoranda given to three-judge panels reviewing a trial court's decision. The entire case, representing sometimes several years of litigation and thousands of pages of documents and trial transcripts, has to be presented simply and concisely in 20 to 30 pages. This is no easy task. To achieve the requisite balance of educating the court about the facts, persuading the court to accept my client's position, and presenting the case simply and concisely, I must constantly edit, revise, and especially delete. Therefore, I revise each brief enough that it would earn an A.
I also learned the importance of language, of word usage. In the law in general, and in appellate briefs in particular, words have very specific meanings. For example, saying that a contract was "signed" is different from saying it was "executed"—only the latter means both parties signed it and that it became a binding document. My time at FSU taught me the importance of words and how to use them.
Contributing editor for the Washington Post Magazine, founding publisher of CATALINA, a Hispanic woman's magazine, author of Latino Wisdom, and frequent pundit on cable TV news shows, including Fox's O'Reilly Factor, HLN's Showbiz Tonight, and CNN's Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien
Studying literature had a major impact on me. I really wanted to be as smart as my professors. I respected their minds so much—the way they could analyze a great piece of literature and see the world another perspective. My professors did not teach in black and white. They looked at the stuff in between. Plus, they taught me to look at all writing—from literature to the front page of the New York Times—with a critical eye. I look for angles. I analyze the protagonists. I question everything.
I chose to focus my studies in literature rather than creative writing or communications because I had heard that, in order to become a great writer, you had to be a great reader. So, I chose a concentration in literature to learn how to write and communicate directly from the best: Ernest Hemingway, Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, William Faulkner, to name a few. They were the best teachers a writer could have. I doubt you'll ever meet a great writer who hasn't studied great literature.
Studying literature taught me more than words on a page. It taught me about life through lessons in history, sociology, psychology—told by the brightest minds who captured it all on paper for all of us to read and absorb. Now, I'm able to approach anything that comes up in my career with a unique perspective. Being an English major meant that I was a student of life.
Megan Lenker Pritts
Minors: Biology and International Affairs
Associate General Counsel at the University of South Florida, specializing in labor and employment law
I am an Associate General Counsel at the University of South Florida, specializing in labor and employment law. I am also the mom of two young boys, ages 2 and 4, and I have fun watching them as they start of explore the world of books and all the places your imagination can take you.
The study of literature was a wonderful way to develop my analytical skills. Plus, it broadened my horizons by introducing me to a wide range of authors that I might have otherwise missed. Like every other English major out there, I simply love to read stories. Studying literature gave me a strong foundation in critical analysis, which I use on a daily basis in my job as an attorney.
Conservation planner and facilitator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Tallahassee
I chose to major in literature because I loved books, plain and simple, but I now know that the value of that course of study goes far beyond the texts themselves. Reading, thinking about, and writing about literature means being confronted with viewpoints that you don’t share, learning about a world which exceeds your personal experience, and deconstructing problems or situations in order to arrive at, and draw conclusions about, their most innate elements. Studying critical literary theory teaches us (among other things) that there is no absolute truth inherent to a text, but rather countless lenses through which it can be viewed and analyzed in order to arrive at any number of conclusions. We develop this awareness and hone these skills by looking at literary texts. But texts are everywhere: conversations are texts, angry emails from a boss or client are texts, political discourses are texts. Studying literature is a gateway drug to thinking critically about your life and your world.
For the past several years I have worked as a conservation planner and facilitator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission here in Tallahassee. I help individuals, corporations and government agencies develop plans that achieve their own objectives while taking into account the needs of endangered wildlife. I suppose that seems like an odd place for an English major to end up, but I am pleased to say that the critical thinking, writing, and communication skills that I honed at FSU have been crucial to my success in this field. Conservation is my other passion, and I am deeply grateful for the ability to make complex and important scientific information available and comprehensible to communities and decision makers, and to help them use that information to critically evaluate and resolve environmental conflicts for the benefit of both people and the environment.
There is not one single professional discipline in which the ability to think critically and solve problems creatively is not highly valued. And there is probably no better route to the development of these abilities than the study of literature, as I’ve already mentioned, I currently work in a field dominated by people with backgrounds in the natural sciences. Those disciplines teach a very different, much more rigid kind of thinking. What I bring to the table is a flexible creativity that can help in solving complex problems, as well as a unique ability to interpret and communicate information for diverse audiences. Those skills have been more valuable to me throughout my career than any amount of scientific grounding could have been. And as I advance further in my career, they continue to be recognized and commended by my colleagues.
Lauren Gibaldi Mathur
Librarian at Orange County Public Library (also taught high school and worked as a magazine editor)
Studying literature allowed me to read, interpret, and discuss many varied texts. I loved being able to dissect literature and truly value it. I know it not only helped me become a better reader, but also a better writer. I had some phenomenal teachers who helped me realize my goals and pushed me to achieve them.
I received my Master's in Library and Information Studies from FSU a year ago and am currently a librarian at the Orange County Public Library. As a librarian, I get to combine my love of reading with my desire to work with children. I also write books for young adults and have an agent working to get my first novel. I also previously taught English at the high school level and worked as a magazine editor, both careers in which I was able to succeed as a result of my experiences within the department.
My time in the English department helped me figure out what I ultimately wanted to do with my life. It imbued me with a love for working with books, thus my job as a librarian. While at FSU, I also had an internship with the Journal of Beckett Studies, and my overall experience made me realize how much I wanted to write.
Playright, poet, composer, songwriter, video artist, author, and owner of the performance company Saints of an Unnamed Country
I understood the study of English literature to include two activities. First, the use of a range of methods to analyze cultural products, or "texts," constructed primarily through the application of the English language—especially methods that situate these texts in a "history." Second, the production of new writing by relating these texts to other discourses, especially other texts separated by discipline, "historical" or "geographical" time, mode of production, or language. Such methods have strengthened my ability to express myself in English in both speech and writing. Since that time I have adopted other methods as well—however, I have no intention of discarding the model outlined above.
I write and produce performance pieces/plays/rituals for my performance company Saints of an Unnamed Country and any other willing participants. I am also writing work to be recited or read outside of the strictures of performance based media—writing that hopefully escapes easy generic affiliations, for example poetry/prose or fantasy/scholastic. I also compose music occasionally.
The study of literature has been an essential part of my artistic and intellectual life. For me, the institutional study of literature has been the slow awakening to a lifelong pursuit of scholarship that informs my writing and thinking—and scholarship as a term that is constantly being rewritten and reevaluated as a necessary part of its own reproduction. The key for me has been to continue to pursue the study and application of language outside any institutional bounds, to continue to discover and learn on my own. But, my awakening to the advantages of such a pursuit are grounded in my study of literature at the university level. I found the creative writing classes that I took through the department to be far less useful.
Majors: Literature and Political Science
Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Oxford (M.A. in Migration Studies), NCAA shot put champion, former staffer at U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, co-founder of Sendhub
The study of literature taught me how to appreciate different perspectives and the power of the written word. Everyone loves a story and the ability to conceptualize a narrative has served me well in both politics and business. Reading comprehension and the ability to synthesize large concepts—while infusing a fresh perspective—has been incredibly important to my development. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the department's faculty for affording me such a strong foundation. I currently live and work in Menlo Park, California, nestled between Facebook and Google. I am the founder of Sendhub, a tech startup that is designed to make it easier for businesses, educators, healthcare workers and just about anyone to send texts to individuals and groups of any size. I am hopeful that it will help to change the world.
Majors: Literature and Spanish
Obtaining a Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics and Language Science at Penn State, affiliated with Penn State's Center for Language Science
I really enjoyed how analyzing literature allowed me to think of problems in unique ways. It wasn't so much the actual writing that I enjoyed, but the challenge of seeing many interpretations that came out of those writings. I liked the fact that I was able to take one story and create a myriad interpretations.
Studying literature, while giving me an appreciation for literature itself, really equipped me with a tool set with which to approach many things. I learned to analyze and construct an argument, which is invaluable in my day-to-day graduate work since I constantly am challenged to figure out what others have written and then provide clear responses. Even though my current work is much closer to fields of psychology and neurology (and, of course, linguistics) and therefore more "science-y" than literary studies, the ability to communicate my ideas clearly is still very important (if not more so!).
Works for the United States government in Washington, D.C.
The study of literature means the study of creative expression. Literature, for so many people, is a safe space to voice beliefs and emotions. It's also a space where authors and readers can explore the various meanings of both and attempt to achieve some type of understanding, peace or clarity. It is both cathartic and inspirational. Additionally, I believe literature offers everyone an opportunity to challenge concepts and norms as well as an opportunity to explore themselves and the society in which they live. Personally I’ve always been the most interested in literature that focused on the human experience. It's amazing the words and tools an author can use in writing to express themselves. Literature is incredibly dynamic and can be interpreted in so many ways. To me, that's its charm. There is nothing like analyzing a text to uncover all the various meanings.
Studying literature ignited a desire to study and understand the world while also revealing how rewarding and fun analyzing people can be. As a result, I ended up continuing my education at Florida State and received my M.S. in International Affairs in 2010. I currently live and work in Washington, DC and am fortunate to have a job now that allows me to use many of the tools that I learned through the literature program. I still continue to read, write and study literary concepts to this day.
Majors: Anthropology and English Studies
Minor: Women's Studies
M.A. candidate at Rutgers University in the Department of Geography
I studied literature not because I love reading, which I do, but because I love theory and being critical about the world around me. Sure, there are other disciplines that engage heavily with theory—Philosophy, Anthropology, Humanities, Economics—but I saw more freedom, more room for creativity within literature. In literature, you're not bound by a particular writing style or a particular ideology. You can explore social theory through novels, poetry, essays, music, and film. You really don't get that kind of breadth and variety in any other discipline.
Studying literature challenged me to think and write in new and creative ways, which has benefited me both professionally and in everyday life. While many people take things at face value or rely on the status quo, I feel like I'm equipped with the intellectual tools to ask, "Do things have to be this way? Can we imagine a different way to do things?" This has definitely helped me at work and in my political activism. Studying literature gave me the intellectual curiosity and confidence to pursue graduate school, and I hope I can continue to use those skills as an organizer and educator.
Beginning law school at the University of Chicago
Like many college freshmen, I endured some pretty intense pressure to choose a supposedly "practical" (read lucrative) major, and this induced me to tack biology onto literature as a double major for two years. While bio was very interesting and relatively easy for me, I didn't feel I was being true to my interests and feared that I would be sucked down that path after graduation. So, I stopped buying into the dichotomy of practical hard sciences and impractical liberal arts, and as it turns out (see below), it's a good thing I did! Despite the simplifying effect of modern communication mediums on language (think text messaging or Twitter), I believe that the ability to skillfully manipulate the written and spoken word will always be in demand, whatever the economic or technological climate might be.
I am currently in the process of matriculating at the University of Chicago Law School, where I'll begin studying Fall 2012. After spending close to a year preparing for the LSAT and painstakingly constructing my law school applications, I was accepted at most of the top institutions, including Harvard. What ultimately decided me on the University of Chicago? An extremely generous merit scholarship and the school's stellar reputation/job placement record.
Although your choice of major doesn't directly play a large part in the law school admissions game, I feel like the training I received in close reading and literary explication while studying at FSU gave me a competitive edge—in two of the three scored LSAT section types, in my personal statements, and of course in the admissions essays. On a more personal level, studying a subject that I loved kept me engaged and interested, helping me to graduate at the top of my class.
Majors: Creative Writing and Psychology
Studying law at Florida State University
Minor: Film Studies
Actress in Los Angeles, CA, founder of JAM, a production company, and a social media consultant
Studying literature allowed me to explore my interest in storytelling. As a child and into adulthood, I've always had an affinity for entertaining; however, it wasn't until I was studying in the English department at FSU that I began to comprehend how the stories we tell and are told affect how our personalities are shaped. That the representations of gender we witness in multiple medias are reflected in how we act and treat others.
Since moving to Los Angeles, California, I've worked as a freelance social media consultant for various companies, assisting in press releases and the shaping of each companies personal appearance in many social media domains. I am also working on my career as an actress. In addition to appearing in Cody Simpson's video "On My Mind," I've starred in several short films, which are currently entering the festival circuit. In the beginning of 2012, I was fortunate enough to open my own production company, JAM. The chief focus of the company is to produce independent multi-media projects, some commissioned by outside companies as well as projects that my friends and I are writing from scratch.
It was only through the in-depth study of literature that I'm able to pursue and succeed in my chosen career paths. The guidance of a few influential faculty members at Florida State helped to inform me of the importance of thoughtful and aware texts, revealing that the media we produce has the ability to shape the people and attitudes around it.
B.A. Spring 2012
Teach For America Program, elementary school teacher in Oklahoma
My love for literature can be traced back to a single word that I had never heard until my first college-level literature class: quotidian. This class focused on the works of Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Goethe, Rilke, Kundera, and other authors who wrote about seeing beyond the quotidian life and what it means to transform yourself in order to live extraordinarily. These ideas fascinated me and made me look at my life in a new perspective. I had just entered college after being laid off from my career as a mortgage processor due to the economic downturn, and the more I read, the more I realized how ordinary my life had been, how unhappy it made me, and how I should (and could) re-evaluate and change myself, my environment, and my future. Studying literature opened my mind to new ideas and required me to explore different avenues of interpretation and critical thinking. Through studying and reflecting upon other people's writings, I have enriched my own life story and am consciously moving toward a more fulfilling existence.
I am excited to say that I have been accepted into the Teach For America program! In June 2012, I will be moving to Oklahoma City to teach elementary school and do my part in battling educational inequity. My background in literature will help me to expose my students to new concepts and teach them about people who faced similar struggles and overcame them in positive ways.
Studying literature has helped me gain confidence in the way I personally view and interpret the world. Due to my career background, I was trained to follow strict guidelines and always get the approval of someone else. There is a sense of freedom in studying literature that I didn't like at first because of this. I would always research other people's interpretations and critical viewpoints to make sure my analysis wasn't "wrong." My professors called me out on this and eventually I learned to have confidence in my own arguments and answers and find my own supporting evidence. I think this especially helped me as I began figuring out what I wanted to do with my new life; there is no "right" or "wrong' answer—there is only "my" answer. My "supporting evidence" is the sense of success and fulfillment that I feel on my new life course, and I am confident that this is enough to prove I am moving in the right direction.
Studying law at Florida State University
The study of literature meant getting the great university education I had always hoped for. Thanks to the FSU literature faculty, I was exposed to a diverse array of works. After taking classes from many different genres and eras, I found that I had a passion for Gothic Caribbean literature. The literature department thankfully offered several courses under this area of study. I took every Caribbean literature class that I could, and the frank classroom discussions and in-depth analyses of the difficult issues that face the people that inhabit the various nations of the Caribbean genuinely helped shape my world-view.
I just finished my 1L year at the Florida State College of Law, and my time as a literature major has proven to be a great asset. Studying literature taught me how to look at an issue from all sides. In law, as in society, there are hardly ever black-and-white answers to problems. For such issues, creativity and the capacity for critical thinking are highly valued traits.
Majors: Literature and International Affairs
Teach For America Program, teaching secondary math in the Greater New Orleans area
I received a dual degree in my time at Florida State in English Literature and International Affairs. However, throughout my entire course of study, I always considered literature to be my primary major, and if I had ever had to choose between the two, I would have prioritized it. For me, studying literature meant studying human culture and systems of knowledge in a way that allowed me to make meaning of my personal experiences and to draw connections between my own life and wider historical and social contexts. Some of my most valuable intellectual experiences in college took place in the classrooms of literature professors who impressed me with their ability to draw entirely unique conclusions from a text that had been picked over by other scholars and critics for decades or centuries. They not only demonstrated this capacity and exposed me to new perspectives, but were active in leading me to develop my own critical mindset and ability to create and improve my own arguments and understandings in response to those of others.
I graduated this spring and am about to begin training for a two year program called Teach For America. I have been placed in the region of Greater New Orleans. I will be teaching secondary math in a school in a low-income area with the hope of improving the quality of education for the students there, making a positive impact on their life trajectories, and helping to decrease the achievement gap between different classes and communities of color in the United States education system.
Studying literature helped me get to where I am now by enhancing my writing skills as well as my capacity for critical thinking, self-expression, and communication. My studies were an entirely transformative experience in which I grew as a person to understand my values and convictions, my strengths and weaknesses, and my position in relation to both my immediate community and the wider world I live in. Above all, I think studying literature gave me confidence and motivation by encouraging me to engage critically with a range of content and to not only formulate creative ideas, but to see them through until they could be considered meaningful to others. In no other classes was I forced to rely upon my own intelligence and personality as much in completing the assignments. Writer's block is a very real thing, even for students—it literally felt like hitting a wall sometimes, but pushing past that is empowering. The act of creation is at the heart of the study of literature—you are not simply fed material and asked to regurgitate it, and that's refreshing.
Minors: American and Florida Studies
Beginning Law School at FSU, hopes to be an environmental law specialist with an ancillary focus in public interest/pro bono work
Choosing to major in literature was a momentously beneficial decision. First and foremost, the literature courses I took inculcated me with such a richness of expression and diverse ways of thinking. Looking back at the way I wrote and analyzed before I began at FSU in contrast to some of my more recent works, the difference in quality is palpable. I evolved from a writer whose thoughts and words were mired in a morass of myopia into an expert crafter of cogent and well-organized arguments, equipped with multifarious ways of delivering those arguments. As a dilettante of abstruse words and ideas, I can also confidently say that I expanded my vocabulary and my knowledge of the history and philosophy of various literature a great deal. I found myself learning something new and intriguing every day, often more than I reasonably expected. And the aforementioned heterogeneity of the material I studied cannot be overstated with respect to its benefits—the opportunities are there, with all of the literature courses offered at FSU, to immerse yourself in so many different genres, authors, themes and periods of time. In my own experience, I developed such a profound appreciation for so many disparate literary talents; I learned that great writing is manifest in such uniquely discernible ways.
The professors I studied under also meant a great deal to me. I cannot recall a single professor I had in the entire department who was not amiable, knowledgeable and frequently available for questions and advice. After all, it is incumbent upon the professors of a subject to imbue their students with a love for and an interest in the subject, and my experience met those expectations admirably. The literature professors at FSU are top-notch.
A concomitant perk of studying literature is that it's just flat-out entertaining. Yes, as a literature student you must read assiduously, but most all of the works you get the chance to read (or, more aptly, discover) are exciting and interesting. Even the few books and articles I assumed I'd be disinterested in were amazingly stimulating reads once I allowed my mind to become engaged in the meaning(s) behind the text. Majoring in literature definitely carries with it some long nights of reading more pages than I'd care to count, but I believe it's hard to beat the excellent balance of excitement, enlightenment, and work that the literature major provides. Majoring in literature has helped me grow tremendously, both personally and academically. I feel much more at ease reading for long periods of time, and I have a heightened appreciation for diversity, particularly the diversities of experience and culture. My elocution has improved significantly, my list of favorite books and authors is augmented, and I simply enjoy reading more. I've gained a sense of humility and empathy for the different paths each person has taken to reach the present moment, and I'm more philanthropic for it. Analyzing and picking out abstract meanings from texts has become much easier; I'd say it’s almost easier for me now than it is to read a text and identify its literal (or surface) meanings. In short, studying literature has made me a well-rounded, better person, and the lasting impacts of my time as a Lit major are (and will be) nothing but positive.
I'm now preparing to begin law school in the fall, right here at FSU. I hope to eventually practice as an environmental law specialist with an ancillary focus in public interest/pro bono work. I really feel impelled to remunerate society for all the great advantages I've enjoyed in my life, and I hope that through my efforts the philosophy of serving others before oneself will proliferate through everyone I come in contact with.
Minor: Political Science
Beginning Law School at FSU, interested in human rights and human trafficking, environmental law, international law and intellectual property
My decision to study literature in college was one of the best I've ever made. For me, it was just the best kind of deal: I could do something really pleasant and enjoyable and satisfying, and at the end of four years, get a degree for it. My time as a literature major was meaningful as well, because obviously reading a book for pure enjoyment is different than reading it in an academic setting; and reading it in an academic setting, especially with the kinds of professors available at FSU can be really intellectually stimulating. Their intellectual and imaginative personalities, teaching methods, literary theories, senses of humor, senses of compassion and social awareness, I found so endearing and relatable, that studying literature with them was more fulfilling than I ever could have imagined. They are all real gems and Florida State is unbelievably lucky to have them.
In the fall, I will be studying at FSU's College of Law. There are several different paths in legal study that I am interested in, especially at FSU, such as human rights and human trafficking, environmental law, international law and intellectual property. One of the main "practical" rewards or skills that I took away from my study of literature is an increased ability to relate to other people. In my classes, I read what I think was a good variety of texts, written by a variety of different authors, featuring a variety of different characters and different ways of looking at life and the human condition, and I think that this breadth of study and interaction has made me a better human being, for one, and has definitely made me a better communicator, and more interested in helping to facilitate communication. According to David Foster Wallace, a liberal arts education is really invaluable because it teaches you (maybe not by active instruction, but by compelling you to engage in areas of study which require you to) to think critically, and apply that critical thinking to all aspects of your life. The ability to think outside yourself, think outside just even some of the immediate implications for yourself, is an incredibly important ability for any "service" industry (and I hope that my practice of law will be a service to other people) but especially one in which the outcomes and ramifications of your decisions and your interactions and communications with other people can be potentially life-affecting. To me, and of course I'm biased, literature is the best, most rewarding branch of liberal arts. Because I've read a lot of different things, both in class and out, I've been sort of collecting different templates with which to read real life situations, and how to sometimes be able to think like other people, or put myself in other people's shoes. I absolutely believe that my study of literature has strengthened any naturally occurring empathy for humanity, and so will help me bring compassion and understanding to whatever career I end up pursuing.
Perhaps most importantly, being a literature student has made me so much better at writing in general, but also specifically at crafting arguments; treating them in some ways like a puzzle or a math problem. I'm not sure where else in college, in what other department, I would have really gotten that skill if not for my literature classes. Also important, especially in a field like law, but I think any field, really, is an ability to understand how to craft a story, or how successful stories are crafted, however rudimentary or fundamental that understanding is, and that is absolutely something you get as a literature major. I think all of these aspects of my literary education will be immensely applicable and will help put me ahead of some other people from other academic backgrounds, in law school and beyond.
Majors: Literature and Media and Communication Studies
Beginning law school at Emory University
Being a literature major meant I sincerely enjoyed my time at Florida State University. I had the incredible opportunity to read amazing books and then talk and write about them and serve as a co-creator of the substance of a lot of my courses by contributing my own ideas and opinions. Studying literature also meant I shared the same desire to read and talk about what I was reading with brilliant professors who were sincerely interested in what I had to say. Studying literature was like being engaged in constant dialogue and conversation and choosing English Literature as a major was no doubt the best decision I made while at FSU.
I am beginning law school at Emory University this fall, and this summer I will be working at a camp in North Carolina. The study of literature helped me get to where I am today by constantly challenging me to form my own opinions and thoughts and pushing me to articulate those opinions and thoughts. Studying literature also helped me understand the dynamic nature of the world we live in. I read Jacques the Fatalist one way in the spring of my second year and a different way the following spring and I love that about reading and about life. Things change and the way you approach novels change and the meaning you help make when you conspire with the author changes and how you feel and think about one thing today may not be the same down the road. Studying literature helped me understand what a wonderful thing that is.