“All Cretans are liars,” said the Cretan.
This is what is known as the Cretan Liar paradox. It is named after Epimenides, a sixth-century BCE philosopher from Knossos on the Greek island of Crete. If you don’t immediately see the paradox, keep looking while I give you some unsolicited advice.
If you are a student thinking of majoring in the arts and humanities—any one of the disciplines in our school that focus on creativity, critical thinking, compassion, and what comprises the art of being human—you probably expect me to make a sales pitch about what kind of well-paying jobs will be available to you the moment you toss your artfully decorated mortarboard into the air at graduation.
I can do that. I can point to lists of CEOs and other successful people who majored in history or philosophy, religious studies, foreign languages or literature, theatre or art. Every last one of them will espouse the value of a liberal education (i.e., an education that includes a healthy dose of not only hard and soft sciences but also the arts and humanities) as either the direct or indirect path to success.
Alternatively, I could implore you to raise the bar of your ambitions and not to focus on filthy lucre alone but to aspire to the greater dividends of an enriched intellectual and spiritual life. I could tell you that one does not live by espresso and croissants alone and that virtuous food for thought is worth more than rubies. I could mix metaphors and write purple prose till Doomsday. But you wouldn’t listen and I wouldn’t blame you.
No, I’m going to tell you something you probably don’t expect to hear from a dean. I’m going to tell you not to listen to my advice.
We can’t live our lives online. We can’t send in our measurements and order a future and expect it to fit because not only is your life not one-size-fits-all, I’ll bet it doesn’t even come in Small, Medium, and Large. Every life is unique. So for me to tell you to become an English major would be like me trying to get you to wear my old college sweatshirt.
The best measure of whether a college education has done its job is if a graduate can think on his or her own. In the classic movie The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman was given career advice in the form of one word: “Plastics.” There are many such well-meaning words of advice out there today: “Engineering,” “Oil,” “Coding,” “Critical Thinking,” and so on.
Take my advice: don’t take their advice. Find out what interests you and follow that scent wherever it takes you. There are a lot more careers in the world than you can find in any list of classified ads or college catalogs. And there will be a lot more.
So take this word of advice from a Cretan dean: “Don’t take my advice.”
Dr. Robert Frakes
Dean of the School of Arts & Humanities