Convocation Speech Defends Value of Liberal Arts

Maisha Rahman

Literary critic William Deresiewicz gives convocation at Memorial Chapel. (Photo by Curran Carlile)


Literary and cultural critic William Deresiewicz recently visited from Portland, Oregon to give a convocation speech titled “Through the Vale of Soul-Making: the Journey of the Liberal Arts.”

At the convocation, Deresiewicz talked about the importance and power of a liberal arts education, particularly one comprised of humanities courses. He discussed how the humanities help students fully develop themselves in a way that other academic programs cannot match.

Even though Deresiewicz earned biology and psychology majors during his college career, he claimed, “The liberal arts education is a journey towards yourself, of deciding who you are and who you want to be. Humanities teach students how to pay attention to yourself and thus help you build yourself.”

“Deresiewicz did a great job in laying out a more essential argument in defense of humanities. Not what they do for you in terms of your career but what they do to shape you as a person,” said Assistant Professor of English Garth Bond. Assistant Professor of English David McGlynn called him a “public intellectual.”

Deresiewicz spoke to a receptive and appreciative audience that included students, faculty and staff members. “Deresiewicz was very well spoken. He raised a lot of interesting points that I could relate to. I was surprised by the number of people who attended the talk and seemed very dedicated,” said sophomore Alysa Levi-D’Ancona.

Following the lecture, Deresiewicz also held a question and answer session at the cinema. Said McGlynn, “Q&A was good. It had a healthy turn out of strong questions. He answered for a good hour or so. Students who have attended will remember it for a long time.”

Deresiewicz was an English professor at Yale University from 1998 to 2008. He left Yale to become a freelance writer. He also taught at Columbia University, where he earned his bachelor’s degrees and Ph.D.

Deresiewicz’s work mostly concentrates on renowned British writer Jane Austen. He published an academic paper, “Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets,” in 2004, and a book dedicated to this subject a few years later. His book “A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter,” was published in 2011. 

Deresiewicz’s work is not limited to these publications. In addition, he writes for the***The Nation,******The American Scholar,******The London Review of Books,******The New Republic*** and ***The New York Times.***

Furthermore, he has been nominated for the National Magazine Awards in 2008, 2009 and 2011 and for The National Book Critics Circle in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Deresiewicz’s next book “Excellent Sheep: Thinking for Yourself, Inventing Your Life, and Other Things the Ivy League Won’t Teach You” is expected by the year 2014.