Dixon Li

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. 

Part of my senior thesis had tinkered with thoughts about race, dance, and embodiment in the music videos of Beyoncé, so in January I enrolled in pre-professional dance training. I spent the next nine months halfheartedly finishing an MA in Writing in the Modern Age while enthusiastically dancing in the studio, watching YouTube videos of dances, and traveling. Along the way I tutored to pay for extra-curricular activities, co-led an activist-educational trip to the West Bank, and performed at a small Butoh Festival in France and in the Venice Biennale. And so, I became a dancer.

At Princeton I had taken creative writing classes alongside literary and cultural analysis. And while analytical classes opened up new realms of thinking, it was creative practice that ultimately helped me find voice and style. Creative practice was also harder. So I scrapped plans to study critical theory for the second year of my scholarship and ended up doing an MA in Performance Making at Goldsmiths, studying dance and choreography.

The course of study was not what I expected (common theme, it seems) and the year threw me so many curveballs that I finished my Marshall with a lot of uncertainty. I knew I liked to write, I knew I liked to dance and make dances, I knew I needed depth and complexity to be interested, I knew I needed creative life, and I knew without projects committed to some form of reparation I’d feel my education had been selfish. (The ‘in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations’ kool-aid I did indeed drink).

After returning to the U.S., I briefly entertained law school but ended up applying to graduate school. I’ll be starting a PhD program in English at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. I’m still not entirely sold on a life in the academy, but I’m coming to recognize that perhaps my personality is just too fidgety to commit to any other career. Or maybe I’m just another millennial…

Regardless, majoring in English has served me well. Through classes and independent work, I was taught to foster curiosity and explore in depth without knowing where a wayward path might lead. My professors were quick to point me to movies, texts, performances, and strange cultural events and gave me the space to try teaching, writing, and researching in creative ways. This spirit of catholicity has followed me since graduation and I am now finishing training as a yoga teacher and am about to begin training as a death doula. My track does not feel typical for a student of English, but then again, English at Princeton always encouraged the quirky.