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The Power of an English Major

The English Department e-newsletter was published a couple of weeks ago, and there was a wonderful story in there by a young alumna, Ashley Gedraitis (’11), about her experience as an English major and how it has helped position her for life after Wake Forest.

Since major and minor declaration just happened, there could be some families out there that feel some sense of unease about their student’s choice.  Once you read what Ashley has to say about the value of a humanities-oriented major, I hope any fears will be eased.  Here is here essay, reproduced in its entirety from the English department e-newsletter.

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From Teaching to Consulting:

Ashley Gedraitis │ Class of 2011

In 2011, I graduated with an English major and minors in Sociology and Women and Gender Studies: the poster-child for Liberal Arts. It belongs on a bumper sticker or t-shirts. It was easily the best decision I made at Wake. And here’s why.

With my degree in English, I found my way into two editorial internships with Simon & Schuster publishing, experiences that not only enriched my understanding of my major but also my understanding of business. Because, yes, publishing – more than a literary lover’s playground – is an actual business. I ran profit and loss analyses, researched market trends, and…read submissions and edited manuscripts. It required critical analysis, a logical thought process, and, of course, my treasured literary training.

However, my major took me beyond publishing – it took me to diplomacy. After graduation, I found myself interning at the US Consulate in Belfast, Northern Ireland, with the State Department. According to the Foreign Service Officer who selected me for the role, my application stood out “because I could write.” In a job that requires writing countless memos, white papers, and diplomatic cables – writing was a key component. Communication is really a skill acquired, not simply taught; and as you slave away at your essays for Shakespeare and 18th Century British Literature, you’re developing a highly coveted skill set.

After Belfast, I journeyed to Poznan, Poland, on a Fulbright Scholarship, teaching English writing at a university. Following my four-year stint as a tutor at the Writing Center coupled with the year spent writing my thesis, I felt very prepared to help my students through the writing process; only months before, I, too, sat exhausted, staring at my laptop, cursing the English language for its deficiencies and lack of synonyms for the word “family.” I understood my students’ plight because I’d experienced it firsthand. And it helped that they at least tolerated the Don DeLillo and Joyce Carol Oates I forced them to ingest.

And now, a year and half after graduation, the top line of my resume reads “Deloitte Human Capital Analyst, Federal Practice.” That’s right, this English major went from publishing to diplomacy to teaching to consulting. And why not? English doesn’t give you a business vocabulary or a step-by-step process; any on-the-job training gives you that. English gives you a very unique lens through which to view problems and to develop solutions. It gives you an ability to communicate an idea in various ways and the toolkit to break that idea apart. It really isn’t Humanities propaganda. I can say it truthfully, reporting to you from the field. You’re not reading Sense and Sensibility only because it’s a fantastic novel; you’re reading it because it’s going to make you an awesome consultant, or teacher, or editor, or writer, or whatever else you want to be. And plus, it gives you superior dinner conversation compared to people who read business case studies all day.

Ashley Gedraitis graduated from Wake Forest in 2011 with a degree in English and minors in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies. She served as the Student Trustee while at Wake Forest and studied abroad in London, England. She received the Fulbright Scholarship following graduation to teach English in Poland and now works at Deloitte in Washington, DC. 

Category: academics, alumni