Since graduating from Princeton last year I have moved from Princeton to Berlin to Melbourne, where I am currently based as part of my Sachs Global Scholarship year. The aim of my scholarship project has been to extend the research I began with my independent work in the English Department: examining the sociopolitical impact of black performance art.
My career since Princeton has been a bit non-traditional, but that was true of my studies as an English major as well. Of course, I read Milton, Shakespeare, and the rest of the canon like any other English student, but my interests skewed towards literary theory and film. My senior thesis, about how filmmaker David Lynch deploys the discourse and metaphors of psychoanalysis to dissect identity, desire, and trauma, ignited an interest in psychoanalytic theory that has only grown with time.
I knew going into Princeton that I wanted to be a lawyer. And since middle school, I knew I wanted to work with vulnerable children, either through custody and divorce cases, or through foster care system reform. Despite having a clear vision of my post-college endeavors, I did not have such a clear vision of my Princeton academics. I did not know, coming into Princeton, that I would be an English major.
Last February I ran across Princeton’s campus to McCarter Theater to share with one of my professors that I had just been accepted to Yale School of Drama for acting. As I ran, I tried to memorize what I was feeling—a mix of shock, excitement, fear, relief—so that if I ever found myself playing a character in a similar situation, I would be able to recall that feeling.
If you had asked me during my college days what it meant to be an Operations Supervisor at an industrial supply company, I would’ve stared blankly at you. At Princeton it seemed that the only fields available to us after graduation were medicine, finance, academia, law, the arts if you were very good, or non-profit service. I assumed that as an English major, academia would be my path.
When I graduated, I was certain that I would soon be back to school as a graduate student in English literature—the first step in emulating the life of the professors I’d come to admire (and to envy) over my years in the department. And while I did take the advice these same professors gave me—“Don’t apply right away, take a year or two off, you never know!”—I was certain my interim professional dabbling would not entice me away from the academic future I’d imagined.
In some ways, I haven’t strayed far from English. After college, I was a Teaching Fellow in English at Phillips Academy Andover; now, I’m a PhD candidate in American literature at Stanford, and I hope to eventually become a professor of English. That path began when I took Contemporary Fiction with Professor Benjamin Widiss (and a fearless preceptor, Adrienne Brown) in the spring of my freshman year. The class made me excited about close reading fiction and film; I was delighted by all the new things I learned to see in different types of texts.
I never expected to major in English when I got to college, and I certainly didn’t expect what came after college either. My senior year I was awarded a Marshall Scholarship for two years of study in London, but I really had no sense of what I wanted to do next.
The contents of my bones include myelopoietic cells, lymphocytes, and a deep passion for medicine. Knowing medicine would fill my post-graduate years, I chose to focus on my love of literature and arts during my time at Princeton. I relished office hours with faculty as we chewed over Gourevitch’s methods to depict tragedy or Thoreau’s embrace of self-contradiction. Still, health never left my side, whether in my theatre company or in my major. In the creative writing program, I wrote pieces about coping with cancer diagnoses.
Since I exited through FitzGerald Gate three years ago, I have been pursuing my law degree at Stanford Law School. As my graduation swiftly approaches, I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect on my pathway so far and how my Princeton English degree has influenced it.
While at Princeton I majored in English with certificates in Theater and Gender & Sexuality Studies (GSS). I hoped to structure a program and an experience for myself in which I could learn, develop, and practice skills for directing and choreographing theater and performance art. My joint English and GSS thesis was a queer theory exploration of the literary Fairy tradition. For my Theater thesis I directed and co-choreographed a reimagining of the movie musical Singin’ in the Rain.
One year ago around this time, I spent the hours around midnight on a little motorboat with my colleagues off the shores of Manhattan. Every so often, a string of light threaded across the Manhattan Bridge, the train shuttling back and forth on its nightly commute. I had grown up in the city, yet never seen it from this angle—at a distance unfamiliar, startling, but breathtaking.
In their article featured in Knowledge and Memory: The Real Story, Roger Schank and Robert Abelson claim that “knowledge... is experiences and stories, and intelligence is the apt use of experience and of the creation and telling of stories” (16). I can think of no better quotation to summarize both my experience as an English major at Princeton and my professional experience as a documentary producer and filmmaker beyond its gates.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, my experience in the Princeton English Department served as excellent preparation for an academic career in architectural history and theory. Architectural studies is a broad field, one that requires familiarity with a variety of disciplines and methodologies.