Blankfein, other success stories advocate majoring in your passions

by Douglas Adair ’16Staff Writer (dadair@fandm.edu)

Last semester, and even more so over Winter break, I’ve been embroiled in an internal debate over what courses to choose this semester and more generally, what major I should declare. At least I know I’m not alone in this since all current sophomores at F&M are required to declare their majors by the end of this semester. And as President of the class of 2016, ‘The Cabinet’ (my version of the conventional “class caucus”) and I are responsible for putting on “The Major Declaration Dinner,” which is a unique tradition at F&M that celebrates this very decision.

With my own future in mind, while planning this event with the generous help and support of OSPGD and the College, I’ve concluded what many others have here at F&M and elsewhere: that we college students have become preoccupied with the inevitable challenge of finding a “good” job after graduating. While that’s a perfectly valid and pragmatic concern, it seems that too many students are allowing it to govern their decision-making when choosing courses, majors, and minors.

Instead of fearing career implications, I’ve come to embrace the notion that allowing intellectual curiosity to be the guiding factor in these choices proves not only to be a more rewarding scholarly pursuit, but also better serves you after graduation in the working world.

That being said, this issue cannot be overly simplified or generalized for all people and professions. And it’s still important to consider the vision and fortitude it takes for college students to be working towards a career goal whether or not they’re going about it in the best way possible. I think some commentators in this area can be too dismissive or simply misguided in determining why this phenomenon occurs.

From my perspective, the most obvious cause isn’t just the fact that the job market is sluggish, but more importantly that people like me who are making these decisions grew up during the economic “boom” of the mid 2000’s and since 2008, have witnessed the subsequent financial “bust” firsthand. In terms of how that effected the current generation of college students, consider how formative it was for the generation who grew up during the Great Depression, many of which came away with a deeply effected mentality about their livelihoods and financial security.

In a similar sense, it’s not hard to believe that growing up during the “Great Recession” has effected us in how we view college, even if it’s not to the same extent or demonstrated in the same ways. However, in choosing what classes we take and in turn our majors, it may be understandable and in some cases prudent to have a vocational perspective, but we also can’t allow it to have too much influence in deciding those outcomes.

As one of many students considering a career in finance, one of the pivotal moments in my search for meaning came after attending an outstanding trip to Wall Street that was put on by OSPGD and The Ben Franklin Financial Services Honor Society. After almost running into Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs on the street outside their headquarters, my interest in him as an individual and as the face of the company was piqued.

While Googling him shortly after my encounter, I found an amazing video where he gave advice to Goldman interns at the “2013 Summer Intern Closing Session.” In this 40-minute interview he points out that he was a history major at Harvard and actually practiced law for years before finding his way into the finance industry. To the same effect, Blankfein goes on to point out that his predecessor as CEO and former Treasury Secretary, Hank Paulson graduated with a major in English, at which point his interviewer, the head of Goldman Sach’s HR department, also chimed in to add that like Lloyd, she too was a history major! By the end of the video Blankfein argued against mentality that leads students to be overly concerned about what marketable skills they have upon graduating college:

“To be successful in this firm, or in life — any part of life…. You have to be a complete person.… If you have a more breadthy kind of academic career, where you learned more stuff and you’re more interesting, where you read a Shakespeare play and took an art course, that’s going to serve you well, not just in your personal life, but also in your business life because you’ll be a more interesting person.”

Blankfein isn’t the only wildly successful person in business who advocates being more focused on what genuinely interests you in college instead of what you think will be the most marketable skill. In Steve Job’s 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, he illustrates how this mentality served him well besides just being “a more interesting person.”

Steve Jobs spoke of his experience at Reed College, saying “much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition, turned out to be priceless later on.” He illustrates this point using the example of his experience taking a calligraphy course, which inspired him 10 years later to include different typology and fonts, along with proportionally spaced lettering in the first Macintosh computer.

So with this in mind, “The Cabinet” and I have decided to make this the theme of the Major Declaration Dinner. We also decided to launch a larger initiative around this topic with the goal of helping to inform students’ course and major selection decisions by holding events with faculty and alumni who are willing to speak about the topic and discuss their own experiences. We intend to also give students the chance to voice their own opinions on this and other important issues, so the programs we provide will also serve as a venue for getting student feedback whenever possible.

Overall, the Cabinet and I want to do our part to encourage an intellectual opposed to purely vocational pursuit for knowledge, and we believe that together, faculty and students can make the F&M academic experience even better.

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