Words of Wisdom from a Beloved Alum

Adrienne and Mike

Alum Adrienne Stout with English Professor Dr. Mike Mattison

We love our alumni.  And we love when our alumni offer some advice to current and future English majors:

When I declared my English major and Creative Writing minor, I was looking forward to a few key perks: drinking hot chocolate from my own English Department mug, never having to climb the stairs to visit my professors, and being heralded for ability to read and write with optimal wit and dexterity.

But, as I took classes and learned more about literature, academia, and myself, my experience became very different from what I expected. Now, after meeting every requirement and receiving my diploma, I have taken away some very surprising lessons:

  • The major was challenging. And, in truth, that never changed. This was a gift. I had hoped that, by my junior and senior year, the classes would be a piece of cake, but they always pushed me. I struggled to articulate my thoughts and write cohesive papers. Writing and rewriting papers exhausted me. And, though it never got easy, I eventually understood what was happening: My thoughts were more nuanced, I was developing a better writing process, and I was taking responsibility for my own learning. The difficulty went hand-in-hand with my development.
  • The major could be fun … if you think James Joyce-themed parties and jokes about grammar are fun – which I absolutely do. When my papers or presentations were trying too hard to sound “like an English major,” that’s when I got writer’s block and felt unmotivated. But adding my own flair (within reason) to my work and class discussions, and writing about what I was truly interested in, always led to a more fluid process. The work I’m most proud of is the work I made my own.
  • The professors are the best. My most sincere advice to Witt students is to get to know your professors. They are brilliant, they are funny, and they want to know you. I spent many afternoons hopping from office to office, catching up with the English faculty, sharing laughs and learning about their journeys as literary folk. They spend a lot of time with you in class, and they value getting to know you as a person. And, think about it: you might be them someday, with your own classroom or cohort. The professors are wise and witty and have a ton of amazing experiences to pass along.
  • There is no one kind of English major or English-major profession. I spent my first post-grad year working at a university in Pennsylvania, learning what it was like to be staff instead of student. Then I moved to Chicago, and I am now learning about a whole new corner of life: real estate. It’s not an obvious Englishy choice, but I have met hundreds of people who shape the way I see the world. With an English major, you are an observer, a communicator, and a person capable of critical thinking and empathy. This has allowed me to try new things, push my limits, and meet new people.

These are just highlights. The list could go on forever. I met my best friends. I wrote my best papers. I wrote my worst papers, and I made mistakes that forced me to grow.

But, ultimately, I learned that the English major wasn’t only about my reading, writing, and thinking; it was also about the people I had the privilege to learn from. I could have honed my reading and writing skills Emily Dickenson-style, alone and self-motivated. But the major at Wittenberg is more than just about the individual – it’s about the community. So, embrace it, current and future Witt students, and remember that, even after graduation, that community stays strong. The profs, peers, and staff will all support you in your travels and welcome you home when you visit – and I visit often.

– Adrienne Stout ’14



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