A Road Just as Fair

On a cool, quiet Vermont night, an English-degree grad reflects on how his studies led him to a career in Homeland Security, and he couldn’t be happier.

By Nico Tarquinio ’10

landscape

It’s 7 p.m. As I step out of my car and into an empty parking lot, a large, unmarked building with tightly drawn shades looms over me. Behind it are tall evergreens and the kind of bright, starry sky you only glimpse when you’re miles away from city lights. I’ll spend the next 10 and a half hours in this lonely place – which isn’t too bad, considering it took me seven years to get here.

On my first day of freshman orientation at Saint Joseph’s College, I didn’t know where I was going, and I had no idea what road to take to get me there. I remember my future classmates and I being told to go to different rooms depending on what majors we’d chosen. They streamed out toward their futures: math was the next door, science was down the hall and nursing was in another building on campus.

It’s not that you can’t do anything with an English major; you can do everything with one.

I, on the other hand, was frozen by indecision. The advisor asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I declared two majors: English, because I fantasized about becoming a writer, and pre-optometry, because my father fantasized about me paying off my loans in the next millennium.

The English and biology departments were even more confused about the decision than I was. Shakespeare and microbiology don’t overlap all that much. (Wherefore art thou, staphylococcus?)

Nico Tarquinio '10

Nico Tarquinio ’10 lives in upstate Vermont where he works for the Department of Homeland Security. He says his English major was instrumental to his present day success.

It may come as some surprise that I’m not the only student who’s had to make a decision like this. Shockingly, making it through college doesn’t actually entitle you to a six-figure job and a team of coffee-serving interns on the day after graduation. So should students work toward jobs doing what they love, or jobs that pay them enough to eat and make their loan payments on time?

With the support of my then-girlfriend (now wife), I made what some consider the most reckless decision a student can ever make: I decided on an English major.

After all, the Internet told me that English majors who don’t want to teach can do all sorts of lovely things, like write bestselling novels or serve froth-topped lattes to other out-of-work English majors. Career guides will tell you that you can do anything with an English major. Problem is, they won’t give you any examples.

That’s because it’s too hard to list them. It’s not that you can’t do anything with an English degree; you can do everything with one. I know because I did.

“The English student leaves college with highly transferable skills, including the ability to communicate clearly and effectively. Then there is the graduate’s ability to explore deeply through research. These skills make graduates highly desirable employees.”

— Dr. Edward Rielly, Professor of English

After graduating in 2010, I took my English skills to the University of Maine School of Law. While I studied there (and at Suffolk University Law School), I got a job at the largest bookstore in Boston. There, I befriended journalists writing reviews for publications such as the Washington Post and the Boston Globe. At night, I worked under a pen name on a successful blog that featured several bestselling authors. After three busy, sleepless years, I left law school with a Juris Doctor and the pride of having represented people who couldn’t afford expensive attorneys in Lewiston District Court. Oh – and I served a latte or two along the way.

If you’re considering an English major, know this: Internet headlines and doomsayers will tell you that English degrees are worthless. I’ve just been too busy working rewarding jobs to notice. 

To their credit, the English major did take me “nowhere” in the end. These days, I live and work in the middle of nowhere – in Vermont. Tonight, when the rest of the world is sleeping, I’ll be in a large, unmarked building, working late into the night for the Department of Homeland Security. As an immigration officer, I use the skills I gained as an English major to make a difference in people’s lives and protect the integrity of our nation through careful adjudications.

When I chose my major seven years ago, I didn’t know that this is where I was going. But my English degree was the road that got me here, and I’ve enjoyed every step of the way.