My childhood was spent exploring the world with wide-eyed wonder. I was constantly being told I could do and be anything I wanted. I’m lucky and very privileged in that respect. I have a supportive family who has trusted every decision I’ve made in my academic career and hasn’t pushed me toward one area of study or another. They raised me to do what I want and value my happiness above all else. If I wanted to drop out of school tomorrow and just work for the rest of my life, my dad would stand behind that decision if it was what was going to make me happy. Not that I ever would, but the fact that the option is even there means my happiness is valued in my family above all else.

Then I arrived here and our bustling school was full to the brim with opportunity. Here, I really can do anything. But the conversations behind whether taking the opportunities that truly make us happy are shrouded in the constant wondering of how these decisions affect the incomes of our futures. Choosing classes at orientation swiftly moved from fun to anxiety-ridden. I remember scouring the course guide and fleetingly wondering if there were still spots in orgo despite the fact I had absolutely no interest in any area of study related to the sciences. I ended up signing up for Introduction to Buddhism. But I couldn’t help but be plagued with the question asking whether or not I had done something wrong by signing up for classes that were far from sensible in the grand scheme of my degree. I thought it was a mistake to take such an obscure class that I would definitely enjoy over something deemed useful on the road to a successful future. I wish I could say it was with that decision that I resolved to covet my happiness above all else. Unfortunately, I struggled with similar anxieties for a while.

Society still tells you to be whatever you want. Except major in English. Also Women’s Studies is useless unless you want to go into even crazier debt for graduate school to make your degree worth anything. Right now, I’m a double major in International and Women’s Studies. I came in wanting to do humanitarian work and travel, which brought me to International Studies. To be quite honest, I accidentally became a Women’s Studies major. One day, I realized I was more than halfway done with the degree requirements and suddenly I was declared. I’ve since realized I want to take an entirely different career path than the humanitarian work I had originally planned, yet, I’m still an International Studies major. I think I’ve kept it for the cushion it gives me when explaining my studies to people. Out of both of my majors, at least one is reasonable, right?

Still, I keep hearing how much money I’m not going to make and how little my degree will be worth. Whatever happened to just doing what we want? When did a higher education become worth it only if you were studying something “practical”? For some people, job security and wealth will make them happy. For people like me who enjoy studying the “impractical” things, money is the last thing in mind.

My peers’ strong opinions on what I should study threw me into an anxiety-ridden existential crisis. At one point last year, I found myself on the University of Michigan’s Program in Neuroscience website, trying to make myself interested enough to sign up for some classes. Instead I applied to minor in writing. I was accepted into the program and I’ve since realized I want to be a writer. Writing doesn’t even break the list of 20 lowest-paying college majors to avoid. But why does this list even exist? I’ve been getting more and more fed up lately with the complete lack of appreciation for education we all have. Nothing has been about learning for a long time. In high school, everything was for the grade. Now, it’s for the degree and what kind of job you can get. It’s fine if you value money and a job title. I don’t. 

Now I’m going to sound pretentious here for a minute, but I really do not care about money. I just want to be happy. My inevitably lower income doesn’t mean I won’t be. It’s almost worse to be told it’s useless to try to do something simply because I won’t make money. I don’t have to make six figures a year to be happy. The truth of the matter is, my degree is probably going to be useless. I am not going to get a job with a women’s studies degree. But, that doesn’t discredit the work I’m putting into getting this degree. I’m learning. I’m happy. Let’s remember what matters.

Olivia Puente can be reached at opuente@umich.edu.

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