Study everything, do anything

It often feels like all I talk about these days is college. Whether it’s complaining over the rising tuition rates, lamenting with high schoolers about the increasing standards of acceptance or trying to answer for myself the age-old question, “What’re you going to do with that?” I rarely leave a friend hangout or family dinner without one of these subjects resurfacing, only for the conversation to end answerless once more.   

Happily enjoying Notre Dame’s famous football games, when I’m not studying.

Perhaps I’m influenced by my attorney parents (who advocate for a liberal arts education through-and-through), but I believe that had I not attended Mt. Lebanon schools all my life, my academic trajectory would have looked entirely different. It is so rare to have access to high quality public education, especially when graduating among 400 and 500 students. Above all, I believe that Mt. Lebanon’s humanities programs are some of the strongest, most rigorous classes to boot.  

Continuing to learn in high school, even through a global pandemic.

Year-to-year, there are specific classes that all Mt. Lebanon High School students are warned about during registration. The classic AP math and sciences warrant hesitant participation and cater to those who previously excelled in their beginner level courses (I was not one of those). Despite the typical warnings about honors chemistry and AP calculus, there is no fear that quite compares to English classes at MTLHS. The straight-A students coming from Jefferson and Mellon shudder as they select Honors English during course registration, having heard horror stories of the strict grading, abundant homework and mythical teachers that seek to ruin freshman dreams of the Ivy League. 

My friends and I after graduating from Mt. Lebanon High School.

However, I always found solace in those classrooms. The English, social studies and broader writing classes were the source of my most obvious growth. I’m certain that my preference for these subjects pushes me to care more about my product, but that cannot be the only reason. There came a point (in middle school) where my parents could no longer help me with my algebra or biology homework (sorry again, Mom and Dad). Yet, even as I entered AP U.S. History or AP English Language and Composition, my parents had endless revisions to my essays and frequently remembered the course content. The endurance of a well-established English and history-based curriculum is, in my case, intergenerational. Knowing how to write concisely, communicate effectively and think critically is timeless, and our schools excel in it. 

To the younger students and families: encourage your students to find their niche academically but try to emphasize the humanities in an applicable way to their personal journey. Even STEM majors at prestigious universities and programs often take writing courses designed for scientific communication or lab reporting. The manner in which doctors and medical professionals engage with patients and communicate problems requires compassion and empathy, the likes of which could not be garnered from solely memorizing note cards and taking exams.  

Additionally: if you become a lover of European history or poetry, don’t be scared to pursue it after high school even if finding a job feels daunting. Writing for the Devil’s Advocate under the guidance of Dawn Davenport single-handedly charted my life’s course. While I am not so sure that being a journalist is still the exact path for me, I know that I love writing and telling stories, and there is no going back. I have committed my first two years in college to discerning potential career paths that align with these disciplines, and the options are endless. In my opinion, the broader the degree, the more possibilities and the more opportunities to find a job that excites you every day. Isn’t that what we are all looking for? 

Besides, artificial intelligence is set to replace a lot of the positions that are customarily human. If a robot can plug numbers into a balance sheet for no salary, answer phones, send emails and learn to perform menial surgeries – what will become of the working world I prepared for? One thing I know for certain is that some jobs will never be replaced. Doctors will need to interact with their patients, lawyers will need to craft well-constructed arguments to defend their clients and politicians will need to voice constituents’ concerns using rational, human thought and emotion. 

One of the perks of taking a wide array of classes – completing a formal business presentation in front of consulting professionals.

Despite my fervent opinion that a high-school and college curriculum steeped in humanities classes is worth the mental and steep financial investment, I am not always so brave outwardly. When people ask about my major, more often than not, I reluctantly change my future American Studies and journalism degree to “Political Science” or “Pre-Law.” It’s just easier that way, I reassure myself. Everyone knows political science, there’s no point in trying to explain a major that they will never have nor understand. Even that explanation barely suffices, as most assume that these four years are a mere pre-cursor to law school, the natural sequitur that I have long ruled out. 

Perhaps one day this will change. Perhaps one day in the not-so-distant future, studying history or sociology will be as well-received as engineering or business. Until then, I urge students and hopefully parents to keep studying and supporting what they love, because education was once meant to expand the mind. In a district that literally centered the community around our walkable, neighborhood elementary schools and centrally located high school, we must remember that no ounce of learning is worthless. 

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