In Defense of University Liberal Arts

The joke is a familiar one: University liberal arts provide students the opportunity to grow uselessly knowledgeable about esoteric (usually left-leaning) subjects all while pouring thousands of dollars the drain. Okay, I didn’t say it was a particularly funny joke. But as someone who entered into college a devout English major at Drake, you better believe I’ve heard all the criticism before. Things like ”Why are you paying to read books? Wouldn’t a business degree be more helpful? So are you a socialist now? Who even cares about these old dead guys?” Although that last question has the hint of a valid point, overall, I’ve dismissed these challenges because I believed firmly in the value of my liberal arts education. And as a senior, I now stand vindicated in my beliefs. I mean, I haven’t gotten a job yet, so maybe I should hold off on the parade, but I do believe my humanities education has served me pretty well so far.

The thing is that as a Drake English major, I don’t learn facts or readings or poems or even novels. I learn new ways to think about the world around me. I’ve had my notions challenged, and have grown as a person because of it. I know the term “critical thinking” is a buzzword or sorts that gets thrown around a lot these days, but my Drake humanities classes really have helped me to critically consume information and express my thoughts about it. Although I don’t want to disparage the benefits of professionally-targeted degrees (I am also a journalism major after all), I know that because I chose to study liberal arts, I can now look at things from different points of view instead of just one. I’ve experienced philosophy, gender theory, history, politics, pop culture, science, classic literature, sociology, and a whole lot more in my Drake classes.

Because I’ve had these educational opportunities, I feel like I’m more engaged in the world. I’m a better citizen, a better person, and I’m even infinitely more prepared to enter the real world after college. It may sound counterintuitive, but my humanities classes are the reason I can problem solve, empathize, communicate with others, and approach issues from new perspectives. I’m not saying that I’ll get a job because I’ve studied the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, but I am saying the skills I used to read, understand, and discuss Heidegger should serve me well in whatever my future endeavors are.

So my advice? Study the liberal arts in some way, shape, or form. I was lucky because at Drake it’s easy to pick up a double major. I’ve gotten both some great practical experience from being a journalism student and all the other benefits of my English degree. But whatever the situation, just take liberal arts classes you’re interested in, even if, and especially if, they’re something new and challenging. I promise, it’ll serve you well in the long run. And as to those people who criticize your foray into the humanities? Well in the words of another brilliant philosopher, Miss Taylor Swift, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate.”

Tim Gunn Comes to Drake

This past week I had the privilege of chit chatting with fashion royalty. Well, to be fair, it was kind of a one sided conversation, but the fact remains that I got to see one of my heroes, Tim Gunn, speak at Drake University. Tim (as I call him because we’re such good friends and all) came to Drake as part of the Bucksbaum Lecture series which brings such incredible figures as Jimmy Carter, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Garrison Keillor to Drake to speak to students, the Drake community, and even all of Des Moines. Anyway, all of campus dressed in their finest to come hear about Tim’s tips on fashion, business, and making it work. Though I learned a ton from the talk, I’ve compiled some of my favorite Tim Gunn pieces of wisdom below:

Isn't he just the cutest, wisest human you've ever seen?

Isn’t he just the cutest, wisest human you’ve ever seen?

Take the High Road

Like the noble, classy gentleman he is, Tim advocated staying above the fray, even in the high-drama fashion world. In his footsteps, I really am trying to avoid going full Real Housewives in my daily life. Although it’s tough, I know Tim is right when he says you’ll lead a more fulfilling life if you eternally strive to be the bigger person.

But Banish When You Need To

I’m not entirely sure why Tim said this, but at one point during his lecture, he yelled the word “Banish” with a flourish of the hands. Like all Tim Gunn moments, it was pretty great, and inspired me to expand my vocabulary for dramatic effect when need be.

Don’t Wear Capri Cargo Pants

This one is kind of self-explanatory, and probably not new information, but important to keep in mind nonetheless.

Anna Wintour Can Rock A Manolo, But…

Tim Gunn told one of the best stories I’ve ever heard in my entire life. That sounds like an exaggeration, but trust me, it’s not. Anyway, for the full effect, you need to listen to Tim’s version of events, but the gist is that one New York Fashion Week, Tim was attending a show in a building on the fifth floor. The ice queen of fashion herself, Anna Wintour happened to be at the same show and when the events concluded, she simply could not bear to enter the freight elevator with all the commoners or descend the stairs like an absolute peasant. Thus, like any logical human, she had her bodyguards carry her down the five flights of stairs, out the door, and all the way down the street to her car. Just take a moment to let that visual sink in, will you?

Make it Work

Okay, sorry. I had to say it. But though Tim’s signature catchphrase is a little trite at this point, it still holds its worth. As Gunn so beautifully explained, “Make it Work” is the perfect allegory for his experience at Parsons and the college experience in general. Things won’t always be perfect, and they certainly won’t always go according to plan. But the important thing is that you keep pushing through the difficult moments and find a way to… you guessed it, make it work.

Famous Drake Alumni

Today, Billy Cundiff kicked a 29-yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining to give the Cleveland Browns the win over the New Orleans Saints. As if the Browns beating the Saints isn’t newsworthy enough, the game attracted my attention for one other special reason: Billy Cundiff is a Drake grad and former Bulldog football player. Pretty cool, right? The correct answer is yes, very cool.

And Cundiff isn’t alone among awesome Drake grads. In fact there’s a huge collection of famous Bulldogs across Hollywood and the sports world. I mean, we’re not USC, but there’s an impressive number of superstars who trace their careers right back to Des Moines. Case in point:

Jeremy Piven

Okay, I think we can all agree that Entourage didn’t exactly showcase the best of human nature, but the good news is that Jeremy Piven is no Ari Gold. In fact, he seems like a very cool guy and a testament to the strength of Drake’s awesome theater program. While at Drake, Piven acted in productions like Julius Caesar, and now he’s sporting top hats on PBS as Mr. Selfridge, bro.

Zach Johnson

I generally try to stick more to mini-golf myself, but I make an exception to watch Drake alum Zach Johnson on the PGA tour. The Iowa City native has 11 tour victories, and even won the Masters. And even after all the success, he still remains a proud Bulldog.


Just kidding. He didn’t go here. Not yet, anyway….

Michael Emerson

Ben Linus, guys. BEN LINUS. Where do you think he picked up the necessary smarts to manipulate an entire island of people? That’s right. Drake University. I may be confusing fiction and reality here a bit, but the fact is that I am tangentially connected to LOST and that’s all that matters.

Kourtney Hansen

If you’re not watching Nashville, you’re not doing TV right. Tune in for the drama, the music, the drama, and appearances by Drake’s own Kourtney Hansen. She started working in radio while studying theater at Drake and now has an incredible career as a dancer, actress, CMT correspondent, and Predators broadcaster. I actually got to interview her for Drake Magazine a while back and let me tell you, she couldn’t be nicer.

Steve Allen

Okay, for all you youngsters out there, this one may not seem as cool, but for me, it was a big deal to discover that Steve Allen was a Bulldog. Apparently, it was even a radio class at Drake in the 40s that inspired him to get into the media biz, and ultimately use his comedy chops as to become the first host of The Tonight Show.

John August

In yet another Drake Hollywood success story, John August studied journalism at Drake before hitting the big screen as a writer and director. Today, he often works with the frightening/frighteningly brilliant Mr. Tim Burton. But my personal John August favorite will always be his adaptation of the eternally cool Big Fish.

Obviously, a lot of really awesome stars got their start at Drake, but celebrity of not, there seems to be something about the Drake education that produces really cool, interesting, and successful people. I’m probably not qualified to venture why that is, but I will say that Drake allows you explore what you love and learn about new things you never knew you’d love. And if that process happens to lead to becoming an ESPN or Hollywood staple, then so be it. I mean, I will be graduating soon, if superstardom should come calling.

College Helicopter Parents

It’s tough being a national media star, but someone’s got to do it. You see, this week I took my turn in the spotlight after being quoted in a little publication called The Washington Post. I don’t know, you may have heard of it. Whatever. In all seriousness, it was a really interesting piece about helicopter parents in college, and I was interviewed as well as my parents, about our experiences. Turns out, the article has really struck a nerve. In the wake of the piece, an interesting dialogue has emerged about student independence in college and reaching the right balance of “letting go” for parents. For all the info and advice, read the article here or check out the subsequent Today Show piece.

Me and my  parents in front of Cowles Library during my first year at Drake. Aren't they cute?!

Me and my parents in front of Cowles Library during my first year at Drake. Aren’t they cute?!

I don’t pretend to be some kind of expert who has these issues all figured out. And honestly, I’m not qualified to give parenting advice of any kind. I mean, I can nanny with the best of them, but issues of parental involvement are a whole lot more complicated than doling out fruit snacks. What I do know is that my parents are the reason I am who I am today. They are still the most important people in my life, and I always want to maintain our great bond.

Simultaneously, I also know that I need to take ownership of my own life. We can’t all pull a Peter Pan and retain the simplicity of youth forever. So I decided to leave home and go away to college at Drake. I decided to live as independently as possible and make my own way in the world. And most importantly, my parents decided to let me do just that. I’m forever grateful for their support and encouragement, but equally as grateful for their distance and understanding. My apologies for the Dr. Phil-esque tone here, but I really do mean it. The transition to college is difficult, I’m not gonna lie to you. But with enough room to live and explore, and yes, even make mistakes, it can be a great experience for kids—and parents—to set the stage for the future.