Discarding Convention: Embodying the Liberal Arts

We, earnest advocates and defenders of the artes liberales, are destined for a crossroads; whether it is acknowledged or avoided or completely suppressed, it is there before us – a critical intersection, where all undergraduates invariably converge, where the “real world” becomes visible on the L.A. horizon.

Some Pomona students – those of optimistic tendencies – imagine this as a borderland between the authentic and the artificial, a transitory threshold on the way to boundless opportunity and sure-fire success. Others, whose tendencies will speak for themselves, view it as a sort of job-seekers’ purgatory: unemployed revenants wandering here-and-there, the musty, acrid smell of your parents’ basement, the ground littered with instant-coffee-stained classified ads. Indeed, it is a bleak picture.

This crossroads, if not already piercingly apparent, is the post-grad job market, an ever-encroaching denouement at the tail-tail-end of the collegiate dramatic arc. Fortunately, for me, a nail-biting senior, there is still plenty of time to plan and prepare, to brace myself, and, as my own experiences will attest, the Career Development Office does a highly commendable job of assuaging the symptoms of I’m-not-quite-sure-what-I-want-to-do-yet asphyxiation. However, almost more important that determining an appropriate career path is learning how to take the first step on that precipitous road and, moreover, how to do so with resolve, with gusto, and with your integrity and ambition intact.

Foreseeing the anxieties and difficulties that this crossroads generates for so many students, especially those students – like me – who have pursued their ever-eccentric muses to the bitter end, the school works hard to publicize tried-and-true methods of self-marketing. That is to say, we are told, over and over again, our marketable qualities: exceptional writing ability, hyper-analytical perceptiveness, an almost inhuman facility for critical thinking and, on top of it all, creativity, competitiveness, and an unrivaled acuity for problem solving. If you have even a remote affiliation with liberal arts institutions, this list should resound like glacially white noise; the very “buzz-iness” of these buzzwords should be almost deafening in its volume. However, as Pomona oh-so ardently adjures us, we should not be satisfied with these near-platitudinous generalities. We should not be, as we were warned in our not-too-distant college application process, content with the bare minimum. Instead, we need to do something different, something that separates us from the numerous, ravenous, merciless pack of our bloodthirsty fellow job applicants.  Put simply, we need to stand out and, to do this, we need to discard convention.

Such a task – crumpling up convention and tossing into the wastebasket alongside our cover letter drafts – is no mean feat. Yet, it is a feat that is manageable thanks to the very generalities, the very conventions, that we are trying here to avoid. Our writing skills will make us into better interviewees; our perceptive eyes will pinpoint exactly why we are qualified for a position; our critical capacities will manifest themselves with each word we utter. To put it another way, we do not need to flat-out declare that we possess these qualities because they are already present within us. They are seamlessly incorporated into our manner – the way we talk, the way we think, even the way we move. When talking to a job recruiter, for instance, I don’t have to directly cite my creativity; it will be infused into my diction, the anecdotes I purvey, and the experiences I draw upon and how I draw upon them.

This is what Pomona has helped me accomplish: the conversion of immaterial buzzwords into material attributes and talents. Therefore, this approaching crossroads, as I envisioned it above, does not seem so insuperable. Intimidating, yes, but not insuperable.