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The value of a liberal arts education

By Elisabeth D. TurnerColumnist

President Rabinowitz wrote in a Newsday article earlier this month that he wants students to get good jobs upon graduation, but that he also wants them to lead fulfilling lives. “What we want – students, parents, all of us – is something of lasting worth,” he said. That something is more than success and recognition, or flexibility and opportunity. That something is meaning – and that can only be attained by an unselfish desire to broaden one’s understanding of oneself and others, and by doing so, contribute to the greater good of the human race.

We may never fully understand ourselves as humans, but by continuing to study our past and ourselves – by placing value on undergraduate liberal arts degrees – we’ll be able to find contentment even amidst economic recession. Liberal arts allow us to reflect on our human nature; they give meaning in an increasingly uncertain job market, one for which desired skill sets are constantly shifting.

When I entered Hofstra almost two years ago, I had a seemingly clear-cut idea of what I wanted to learn. I had no doubts about my major in creative writing, but by the end of my first semester, I realized that I’d rather be positioned in the midst of our country’s ideological debates than in a publishing house, so I switched my major to journalism and grabbed hold of every opportunity that I could. Yet, more than two semesters and some serious thinking later, I’ve realized that I want to switch to English or even history, because journalism classes don’t teach me much about human nature.

But some of the courses I’m taking this semester – like Medieval Europe and International Politics – do. Since the start of the semester, my understanding of the sentiments that shaped the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest of 1066 has increased tremendously.

Human events are what enable political science, history and even literature courses to function, and the knowledge they provide students with is the substance that allows society to be sustained. Yet, we are only aware of these events because someone older than us chose to study them. These events weren’t mere happenings; they are stories of conquest, betrayal and adventure. When we study these stories, they illuminate our human nature – both virtue and vice and thus, help us to understand our present actions.

The best managers and businessmen are not necessarily the ones that have earned undergraduate degrees from business schools. Rather, they are ones capable of transcending chaos and falling stock values based on their understanding of political and social constructs. They are able to rise above a situation, and look at an issue from an outsider’s perspective.

If we continue to devalue the substance that is a liberal arts degree, society will only grow hollow. Devoid of understanding, we’ll enter into another post-digital slump. We will sit alone in our nineteenth-floor offices, counting our stash of bills and the number of employees that are required to report to us, alone and frustrated with the Dow. We’ll continue the daily grind with nothing more than a transient technical skill and a closet full of Calvin Klein blazers.

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