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What will you do with that major?

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Choosing a major can be one of the more daunting decisions facing a student early in his or her college career. Often, one has taken enough classes to be interested in a variety of subjects, but not yet enough to be sure as to what course of study to pursue. It is only too common that in this confused period some of the lesser known, yet vitally important, majors get forgotten.

The Classics and the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) are two such disciplines that are crucial to the overall mission of a university. These majors frequently get lost in the fold as freshman decide what to study, and many do not even know that they exist. More than once has my response to the question of what I study been accompanied by, “We have a Classics program?” or, “Really? What will you do with that?”

The Classics are actually a rather practical major that teaches students many important skills that will aid them in whatever field they may pursue, whether it is further studies or employment. One of the most important skills one learns by studying The Classics is the analytical and attentive focus to the intricacies of language that comes from studying a classical language like Latin or Greek. These languages throw away word order and thus are grammar-intensive in a way that most modern western languages are not. The word endings tell the grammatical function of a word within a sentence, and thus the study of these languages requires a near mathematical approach in its precision and analytical nature. The study of these languages also vastly improves one’s English, as they are forced to learn grammar more precisely in order to translate into English. The approaches of grammar and precision are skills that will prove useful in any field that one chooses to enter.

The Classics and the Program of Liberal Studies both focus on studying great books that have proved to be of such lasting worth and beauty that they have survived the test of time. The former is of a narrower scope and the latter of a broader scope, but both indeed bear these grand flowerings of the human intellect to a modern generation of students. Western thought to this day has been undeniably shaped and molded by the works that are studied in these disciplines, and the study thereof allows one to gain great insight into modern world in which we live and the very thought patterns that continue to influence the fates of nations of the world. PLS is particularly well suited for this as it follows the course of western thought from its incipient stages until the twentieth century.

The greatest benefit that the study of the great works of history offers is the development of the mind that accompanies this effort. One learns to think in a new, more critical manner as the mind adapts. The writing of many a paper gifts the student with an ability to express and articulate themselves in an elegant manner. The study of these texts, which are often difficult and require high levels of attention and consideration, imparts the student with the skills needed to analyze and deconstruct information so that it can be understood, processed and properly dealt with. This is a skill that will allow one to succeed in a variety of situations and occupations, especially as the modern world is increasingly information and communication based.

Despite the vast benefits conferred upon the student of the great works that allow them to succeed in life, the true gift that these disciplines deliver is a growth and improvement of the soul. The liberal arts should primarily be studied for their own sake, ars gratia artis (art for the sake of art) as the beginning of each MGM film states when the lion roars. The liberal arts have their own inherent value that is worth studying on its own. As students contemplate the deep concepts and themes of the authors, they will question what it is to be human and why we are. They will marvel at the beauty and even tragedy of the human existence. They will savor the pleasures of poetry, at times delicate and at others exhilarating. One will be gripped by the stirring narratives contained within the works and try to make sense of the vast array of knowledge, experience, and truth drawn up within them.

The authors of the great works poured their very souls into their works, and have captured so much of life into these works. Having gazed upon the contents of these brilliant souls, one is able to gain a new understanding of themselves and the greater world around them. The student of the great works is now better suited to make decisions and understand his or her own existence than he or she was before entering their course of study. This is in essence the true focus of the University – to produce improved, thoughtful people; university should not be merely a means to end. It should be more than a mere diversion that allows one to get a necessary degree so as not to impede the march to wealth. The target that the University aims to affect should be the soul, not the future wallet. So if you should find yourself undecided as what to study, consider the study of the great works of humanity.

Ian Ronderos is a senior majoring in the Classics with a supplementary major in Ancient Greek and Roman Civilizations. Having retired from the College Republicans and adopting independent politics, he has entered the private life of peaceful contemplation. He can be contacted at irondero@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.