On being a cheerful servant

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Student: If you could be any food, what food would you be?

Me: Hmm. I’m going to cheat with this one: I would be a cup of coffee.

Student: Why would you be a cup of coffee?

Me: Because it’s warm, inviting, it’s like a hug in a cup, and it wakes you up in the morning.

Student: I like that answer!

From the time that I was in High School, I have had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. So much so, that during my sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school I would arise ten minutes before I had to leave the house. My alarm would go off at 6:15am, I would then repeatedly hit snooze for a half hour, and finally arise at 6:45am. My Mom and I would then leave the house between 6:55 and 7:00am. I was a master at getting ready within ten minutes. I had the routine down to a science. My bags would be packed with my breakfast, lunch, and water bottle (at this time I hadn’t discovered the sweetness that is a cup of coffee). I would roll out of bed, brush my hair, use the bathroom, brush my teeth, and finally change. This became my routine each and every morning.

As I transitioned into college, this struggle became even more real since I had to do so on my own and drive 30-45 minutes to my college campus every morning. It was during this time that I discovered the wonderful perks of caffeinated beverages. I had a Dunkin Donuts gift card from my summer job and decided to use it each morning during my commute. This struggle of trying to wake up at a decent time has continued to be a struggle through my college and post-college career.

As I began my year of service with Capuchin Youth & Family Ministries, I knew that one of my greatest challenges of the year would be getting up and ready for the day before the students on the retreat. This proved to be especially difficult being that our retreats typically don’t wind down until about 11:30pm. This means that most of the retreatants don’t settle down until after midnight, sometimes much later. Being the “adult” it is my job to make sure that everyone is safe, in their beds, and attempting to sleep. I repeatedly tell them, “You know that I love you all, but do you know what I love even more? Sleeping.”

These odd work hours have become one of the greatest struggles of my Cap Corps year as well as one of my greatest joys. It is definitely the most difficult part of my job this past year. We constantly rearrange our sleep schedule based on different retreat programs. This is physically demanding, and lying in bed until the last possible minute doesn’t work in this field. One of the ways that I know helps me each day is waking up before the retreatants and being ready to wake them up. One of the struggles of this is doing it with a smile.

I realized early on in the year that this would be a challenge for me. In October of 2015, CYFM put on a Lock-In because of an unexpected open weekend. As bright-eyed, baby CCVs, we were so excited to put on a program that we were able to plan from scratch. However, with an overnight program filled with activities came little to no sleep. I believe I slept for a total of three hours during that retreat. The morning came, and myself along with four other volunteers and two friars had to be bright eyed, smiling servants.

As we prepared breakfast, and as the cherubs slowly rose and made their way down to the dining hall, I was actually cheery. To be honest, I still don’t know how this miracle occurred, being that I was actually exhausted. Fr. Tomas, being his normal, joyful self commented on my cheeriness and appearance of alertness. However, holding my warm cup of coffee in my hands, the only answer that I could come up with for him was that I was “faking it”.

This idea, for me, goes back to my time training to be a peer leader when I was in High School. I was a part of a ministry team that would be running the icebreakers, liturgy, and behind the scenes tasks at a youth conference in upstate New York (everything north of Westchester is upstate to a Long Islander, don’t yell at me!). The week involved Discipleship training, as well as practicing skits, games, etc. On our final day of the youth conference we were all exhausted. We rose at 6am to begin preparation for the final day of Ministry, and my youth minister was particularly cheery, as the rest of us were, well not.

I remember looking at him, with tired eyes, and asking, “Tom, how are you so awake right now?!” His response was simple, and it stuck with me (and stayed with me throughout my year of service).

“I’m not,” he replied “I’m faking it,” and he still had a smile on his face.

This idea stuck with me, not because it made my youth minister inauthentic, or made the job of ministry seem easy. This idea stuck with me because it made me realize that my youth minister was a real person, who genuinely cared about our well-being, and our souls. And although we were all exhausted, we were still there to serve, and we were there to be cheerful servants, not grumbly servants.

“Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But, even if I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you. In the same way you also should rejoice and share your joy with me.” Philippians 2: 14-18

And so, that morning in October, I was reminded of that encounter and the lesson that it taught me way back when.

Whether or not I kept this lesson in mind during later retreats is a different story. However I was reminded of this lesson towards the end of the year at one of the CAM orientation days. We were playing a question game, and one question that I was asked went like this:

Student: If you could be any food, what food would you be?

I thought for a minute and couldn’t think of a food. But, for some reason at that moment, I was reminded of one of my struggles this year: getting up on time, and doing it with a smile. And so, I cheated.

Me: Hmm. I’m going to cheat with this one: I would be a cup of coffee.

When I was asked why, I responded honestly, hoping that these attributes were part of my year. I hope that I was warm, and inviting to each retreatant, and to my fellow leaders. And I hope that I was able to wake everyone up in the morning.

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Embarking on your Faith Journey

Have any of you ever read a really great book or watched a really great movie or heard a really great story? Now, what did that book, movie or story have that was so great about it? Maybe it had to do with some mythical place, or an incredibly interesting main character. Perhaps you were able to identify with it in some way. Something about that story drew you in. And I can tell you, that each of these stories has something very simple in common. They all have some sort of journey that you as the reader, watcher, or listener follow. It may be a journey to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away, to Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Narnia, Metropolis or Gotham. It might be a journey of self-discovery, or one where the main character saves the world. We are drawn into this story. We are drawn into the mystery.

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I have this map up here. It belongs to my Dad, and it had a prominent place in my home for most of my life. It’s a hand drawn map of Middle Earth, the world that J.R.R. Tolkien created for his famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. I grew up staring at it, memorizing the landmarks and physical obstacles along the way from the Shire to Mount Doom in Mordor. This is one of the stories that I was enamored with as a child. I loved the idea of the adventures that took place in Middle Earth. I wanted to meet characters like Bilbo and Gandalf, and I wanted to be a strong heroin just like Arwen.

Now, what if I told you that our faith can be just like one of these journeys.

Just like the ones that we see in our favorite books, movies, or stories.

 You might be thinking I’m a little crazy at this point. But, one of my favorite saints, St. John Paul II is quoted in saying, “Life with Christ is a Wonderful Adventure”.

There is a moment in every story where the main character is posed with a question. Usually that question is whether or not to take on an adventure. Whether they’re off to destroy a ring, find a horcrux, or save the city from eternal doom, there is a moment when the main character consciously makes the choice to do the right thing. And often enough, we learn that the main character was destined to take part in that journey.

So are we.

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This painting is one of my favorites. It’s called “The Calling of St. Matthew” and it was painted by a guy named Caravaggio in 1600. Here we can see a ray of light making its way to Matthew, while Christ is pointing at him. The story of this painting actually comes from a story in the Gospel. The Gospel of Matthew tells us:

 “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew- sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13

We all have this moment. There is a moment where we are asked to join Christ on a journey. We are asked to accompany him on an adventure that we were made for.

My faith journey started out like many others. It was quiet. I grew up on Long Island, went to public school, lived with my Grandma, Mom & Dad, big sister Julie, and went to Mass on Sundays. I played with neighbors as a kid, and loved to draw and write stories. For me, this moment of encounter didn’t happen as a child, at my baptism, first communion, or confirmation, but rather, it happened on a retreat, kind of like the one you’re on right now. I had had a couple of really rough years in high school. I was anxious, depressed, I had lost friends, and a boyfriend who I was too dependent on, and my Dad had moved out and my parents divorced. I was a senior in High School. I wasn’t living a life for Christ, even though I had gone to Church, to youth group, and volunteered my time to the poor and to the younger children at my parish. I was living day to day, trying to fake a smile, and act as though everything was okay. I knew that I wasn’t though. I knew that I was loved, but couldn’t grasp what that meant, or how it could affect my life.

And so I went on this retreat. I didn’t particularly like going to youth group anymore, but out of habit, I went on the Spring Retreat. Ironically, or not so ironically, the theme of the retreat was “I will Follow” and we had to sing this awful song and do silly hand movements to it. However, I knew that being a scutch and remaining closed off was not going to be fun for anyone. So, I tried to be open and listen to all of the presentations and participate in the prayer services. Friday night we handed whatever was burdening us over to God by tossing a rock into the Long Island Sound. We were asked to quiet ourselves, and to think of what was burdening us. There were thousands of pebbles on the beach. We each picked up two rocks. One represented our burdens, and one represented a promise. We each threw our burden into the Sound, and held on tight to our promise. I began to open up then. But the true turning point for me was on Saturday night. I sat in adoration of the Eucharist, which is when the Eucharist is exposed in a gold stand called a monstrance for a prolonged period of time. I desired mercy; just like St. Matthew. I had experienced God’s loving grace in the sacrament of confession. And as I sat, for the first time feeling peace in front of the Eucharist, I cried, and felt a whisper in my heart to come, and follow Him.  I felt an overwhelming sense in my heart that I was loved. Truly Loved.

In that moment, just like St. Matthew, I got up, and followed Him.

I was drawn into the mystery.

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I found Joy on that retreat. For the first time in a long time, I found joy in doing simple everyday things. I even found Joy in getting stuck in the mud of a small Long Island Harbor, after running after my friends onto what looked like solid ground. In case you were wondering, I did ruin my flip flops that day. I had no idea what this journey would entail or what my destination would be. To be completely honest with you, I still don’t know what the destination is. I can tell you, that since I decided to get up and follow Him, my life has truly been an adventure. I’ve gone places, done things, and encountered people that I wouldn’t have even thought possible in High School. But, I had to take that first step and climb that very high mountain. I had to leave my comfortable life behind, and like Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings, I left the Shire.

I started to take my volunteer work seriously. I was a volunteer with the Middle School Youth Group at my Parish. I played silly games along the way with middle schoolers and enjoyed it. I even let a 12 year old do my hair with shaving cream for the “Edge Kids Take Over”. It took a few showers to get it all out.

I went on trips to places I had only dreamed about before. I walked the streets of Dublin and Paris with my Mom and sister.

I took in the beauty of one of the world’s oldest book of Gospels, The Book of Kells, in Dublin, and I stood in awe of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I went on pilgrimage to Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day 2011. I walked along the same cobblestone streets as St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross. I sat in the same churches as a Doctor of the Church. As a group, we went to Mass with various English-Speaking Cardinals, and eventually with Pope Benedict XVI.

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We stood and humbly waited in the rain, which was described as a hurricane over the announcer. There was obviously a mistranslation there. And we waited for the Pope to arrive. We met young Catholics from all over the world: Colombia, France, Iraq, Australia, Nigeria, and Malaysia. I found I had a friend in Jesus’s mother after I realized that each church I went into had the image that my Parish is named after, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This still happens by the way.

In college, I continued to follow Him along a path that I couldn’t quite see, and had some incredible experiences. I trudged through Washington DC in 10 degree weather as a witness to the beauty that Human Life is at the March for Life.

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 I studied in Galway, Ireland, after working up the courage to follow the desires of my heart and change my major from something that would secure me a job after graduation, to something that I truly loved: English Literature and Irish Studies.

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 I sat in the middle of a country road in a town where there were more sheep than people, and appreciated the beauty of creation with a sunrise at 4am with some of my wonderful classmates.

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 I took a bus and visited relatives that I had never met and shared in faith and tea and ice cream with them. We drove all over my Grandfathers hometown.  I felt a little silly standing with that tomb stone in the rain, but I knew that these were the family members that gave me my Catholic faith, this was the church where my grandparents and great grandparents worshipped a God who is Love, and so I complied and smiled as a cousin I barely knew took my picture.

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I walked across the Peace Bridge in a city where violence was the norm for so long. I shared in the hurt that my cousins felt from the past, but also listened to their hope for their city and for their home. I quite literally crossed the River Foyle with them and was present as they shared their story and their heart with me.

I traveled in a minivan, and my campus minister was pulled over by cop in West Virginia for going 83 mph, to a place that I had never been. There were mountains there. I served the poor of Appalachia in Beauty, KY with some of the most kind-hearted, loving people I know.

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The Lord helped me break out of my comfort zone by working with power tools and to truly be present with the people of Beauty. I was reminded by a cook that I met from Georgia, just how beautiful my soul was, and how she could see it in my eyes. I spoke of my love for Mother Teresa and the Catholic Faith with a nurse from the next town after she confided in me just how beautiful she found the Catholic Church, even though she was a Baptist. She met me with love, not judgment, just as Jesus had.

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I built a deck and a ramp that week along with 8 of my classmates and mentors. That is something I would have never thought I could do, much less that I would want to. My Dad still doesn’t quite believe it.  Even in the mud that week, I found Joy.

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More recently, Jesus asked me to climb an even higher mountain. He asked me to serve in a way that I had never thought before. He asked me to move away from home to a place called Garrison, and to run retreats where students could encounter Him. I laughed, but after much prayer and a leap of faith, I went. And I could not be happier. Those words that JPII spoke are true, “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.”

Will you get up and follow him?

This presentation was given on the Sophomore Retreat: Faith Journey through CYFM. 

A little more than a week to go.

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A week from this upcoming Sunday, I move. And it’s strange, because I’ve been anticipating this since May. And now, it’s almost here. For those of you who don’t know, I start my year as a missionary with Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries on August 23rd.

In addition to realizing that this is actually happening, I’ve realized that I kind of, sort of, stopped writing once I graduated. And, yes, I probably needed a break. But I don’t ever want to fall out of practice, or forget the love for writing that grew over my four years at Hofstra. So, today, while I was picking out which books I’m going to bring to CYFM, i came across some old favorites..

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Along with a few gifts that I haven’t read yet, my journals, and books I thought would be useful in mission work, books on writing, revising, editing, Poetry, and Geoffrey Chaucer made their way into my box. After all, what High Schooler isn’t going to be enthralled with poems by Chaucer in their original text?!
(please note my sarcasm) (not pictured: “The Elements of Style,” “Station Island,” and “The Wasteland”)

In all seriousness, I hope that God helps me to rediscover my love for these things over the next year, especially writing. I never want to lose that excitement that I had sophomore and junior year of college. I hope that he uses that love to reach the people we’ll be serving. There was a time, not too long ago, that writing was how He was going to use me. I assumed, I was wrong. Life is funny.

Either way, here I am, hoping that this year will help me to better see how He wants to use me and my gifts. *One Week*

With Love,
Mary

A Long Loneliness, A Review

Something I’ve been working on for the past few weeks…

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As I begin the process of applying for post-graduation jobs and internships, I found that I needed a few writing samples. So here is one that I have been working on for a few weeks. If there has been anything that I have learned in this process, it is that God is faithful if we trust in him.

much love and prayers,
Mary

A Long Loneliness, a Review

Although published in 1952, Day’s written memories are still read in classrooms across America. The first chapter of her autobiography, entitled “Confession” was an introduction to Day’s writing style and of her process of writing an autobiography. Reading her autobiography in a college setting is a bit puzzling. One might think that in order to grasp the life of a Catholic, the lives of the saints should be read in place of Dorothy Day. However, Dorothy Day’s beloved autobiography is still relevant…

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Great Writers, Great Readers: Belinda McKeon

Every semester, my school has a program called “Great Writers, Great Readers.” Essentially this is a series of readings and discussions for students to attend. This month, the guest author was Belinda McKeon.

As we listened to Belinda read from her second novel, “Tender,” I could not help but think of words like mesmerizing, eloquent, and illuminating. To be honest with you, I hadn’t read Belinda’s work before I went to this reading. My professor, Dr. Murphy was at the forefront of this event, and so I decided to attend. Belinda is from County Longford and now resides in Brooklyn, New York. She said that she doesn’t have any particular attachment to County Longford, but it is quiet and has an understated beauty, which is alluded to in “Solace.” Belinda read from a manuscript, and later answered questions of students. I found the question and answer sessions much more interesting than I had originally anticipated.

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There were questions concerning her first novel, “Solace,” her writing process, personal taste in literature, the Abbey Theater, and teaching. Her answers were genuine, making it enjoyable to ask her real questions. Regarding her writing process, she said it is helpful to be able to take a break, to take a walk. Writing every day is for the best, otherwise you lose momentum. She said that “morning pages” was a helpful practice. It’s essentially free writing, in the morning. Writing makes you a better writer. She said at one point, “it really is just about doing it” (Field Notes). Listening to Belinda speak about writing gave me a greater insight to the writing process as a whole.

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I ended up buying a copy of her first novel, “Solace.” She signed it. I came back from this event feeling refreshed. I tend to forget why I read, why I write, and what my next step should be. I’ve written about it here and here. I came out of this event more conscious of writing as a skill, and more conscious of my professors’ confidence in me.

Also, did you know that literary/creative nonfiction is a thing?

365 Days of Love Notes, Week 15

Sunday November 9, 2014

Picked up my mom from the airport at 6:30am and had bagels before mass.

Monday November 10, 2014

Affirmation day at Newman Club 🙂 ❤

Tuesday November 11, 2014

A relaxing night at home.

Wednesday November 12, 2014

A life changing moment:
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I’ve been waiting for my “formal acceptance” to reflect on my first published piece. It’ll come soon (probably within the week) but I’ve been all smiles. I feel so blessed. He really does come through.

Thursday November 13, 2014

Snuggled with this cutie all afternoon:
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Friday November 14, 2014

The first cold night of the year always calls for a fire. A girls night with one of my best friends…
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Saturday November 15, 2014

Some errands and a little rearranging of my room. I now have a book shelf, and a work space 🙂
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Find more Love Notes at Story of a Rose

Patience and Understanding

What are your gifts? What are particularly good at? Is it something that brings you joy? Does it bring you peace? How about understanding? Can it lead you closer to God? Does it help you to pray? Are you aware that it is indeed a gift from God?

These are questions that I ask myself almost every day. I constantly reassess what my gifts are. I am told that I am compassionate, that I am a gifted writer. And yet, I have trouble believing it. I have no doubt that the compassion comes directly from the big guy. There is no way that I could do that without his grace. But if writing is another gift, why am I so unsure about my abilities? If this is my gift, how am I to use it for His glory? Is this a potential career path or just a hobby? There is no doubt that I enjoy doing it. I wouldn’t be blogging if I didn’t enjoy writing. Yet I still have lots of questions and not a lot of answers.

Writing is a beautiful art form. Reading the works of many authors confirms that. John Paul II had a great love for the arts. So obviously they have great resonance in society. Based on my questions, you may be able to guess that I have trouble calling myself an “artist” but when I step back I can see that in many senses I am. JPII even answers some of my questions in his Letter to Artists.

Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world. It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning. That is why the Gospel fullness of truth was bound from the beginning to stir the interest of artists, who by their very nature are alert to every “epiphany” of the inner beauty of things… Humanity in every age, and even today, looks to works of art to shed light upon its path and its destiny.

How am I to use my gifts for His glory? JPII tells us that every genuine art form is a valid approach to faith. I write almost every day for my classes but I also journal often. And if a stranger were to go through my various journals from over the years, he or she would see one phrase come up again and again. “I am most myself when I am worshipping you, Oh Lord.” This prayer comes as a result of writing. I have only ever prayed it while writing. The Holy Spirit has to be in there somewhere…

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Currently, I am waiting for an answer that may guide me in a new direction. Prayers for patience and understanding would be greatly appreciated. If this is my gift, it needs to lead to greater faith. I want it to be genuine just how JPII explained.

Oh, the humanities!

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I know, I get it all of the time. So what are you going to do with your degree? It’s constant. Since I finished my junior year, weekly, I am asked this question about my imminent graduation. Besides the fact that I graduate in may, and that is still months and months away, there are people who insist that I know what I am doing right now. I don’t know what I’m going to be doing a year from now, but most people don’t. Things may be unclear, but I am ever-grateful that I was lead to this particular major. My education has benefited greatly and here are some reasons why:

1. a new sense of perception

I don’t think that it comes as a surprise that anyone who majors in the humanities ends up reading for a living. This is not a bad thing. Aren’t we in college to broaden our horizons and to become knowledgeable of the world? This is where the whole reading thing comes in, one can no longer look at things and take them as they are. Pulling from a book of essays on Lyric Poetry, Victor Shklovsky is quoted:
“The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of                      perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end to itself and must be prolonged” (Townsend, 231).
Shklovsky is on point (he is published after all), the purpose of art is to make things unfamiliar so that one may take the time to perceive it in the way that it was meant. This also is true for the study of art.

2. the development of an analytical mind

Knowing how to think, how to write, and how to argue those thoughts on paper is an incredibly valuable skill. I met someone the other night who is now an editor but she was an english literature major in college. She told me exactly what I had been thinking, and what I had been told by my professors, that the skills of an english major are valuable. Anyone who studies the humanities is forced to think critically on a daily basis. There is no clear cut answer for most things, but I can defend my opinion because of x,y,and z.

3. a greater understanding of the culture that surrounds me

Reading Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in its original middle-english may have been an acute form of torture, but it was beneficial (even if some may not think so). Now, Chaucer is just one example, but reading the works of people who came earlier allows young people to better understand the culture that we live in today. Reading these works allows students to enter another world and understand it. And on a side note, people like Chaucer and Shakespeare are responsible for many words that we use on a regular basis today.

4. organizing your thoughts into ideas becomes your specialty

This is directly related to the second point. Since an english major is constantly writing and thinking about what they have read, they become very good at organizing thoughts into ideas worth writing about. I’m sure that everyone has looked at a paper topic and been baffled, but this is a part of what a liberal arts education is supposed to do. Problem solving is just one of the many benefits.

5. because being able to write is important

It just is. It is so important to be able to write well. Whether it’s an email or a blog post, the skill of writing well comes in handy.

And although Sheldon Cooper may not think so, having an English Degree is valuable.