Educators and Department Chairs need to do much better at explaining to parents, politicians, and communities that Latin and Ancient Studies are still beneficial to help train lawyers, paralegals, medical Doctors, nurses, book editors, writers, architects, etc. They need to demand more funding and better support for these Humanities programs.
Derek Haddad, Greater Boston, USA
Every year, as UCAS deadlines loom, I sit with anxious students and their even more anxious parents to discuss career opportunities and university choices. Every year without fail and, I repeat, every year and not just once, I hear the same questions:
What does a Classics degree entail? If I do not want to be a teacher, what jobs can I have after choosing a Classics degree?
Now, we all know famous classicists. Some are teachers, scholars or professors, such as Mary Beard or Emily Wilson. Others have succeeded in jobs other than teaching in a variety of industries. Notable examples are Boris Johnson, who became prime minister, the talented actor Tom Hiddleston or the writer Toni Morrison, who not only won the Nobel Prize for Literature for her outstanding work but also enjoyed a successful career as a senior editor for Random House. But what about the occupations that will not necessarily make you famous, but that students would like to explore?
In this new series of blog posts, I will interview a variety of Classics graduates from all walks of life. Younger Classicists may not have met anyone who has had a successful career after a Classics BA, or perhaps they have, but they would never have guessed! This series is here to show them the different paths that life may take and inspire them to thread their own.
NB: I have asked relevant questions about the degree and also its routes into employment. And I will be honest, transcribing the answers, even when they are not necessarily what I want to hear, up to the very last question — would you do it again?
Derek Haddad is currently a Policy Consultant at Certified Homecare Consulting in the Greater Boston area, helping startup agencies around the U.S., including many in underrepresented communities, get licensed and accredited by ensuring their policies meet state & federal standards and regulations. He does research, paralegal, and copy-editing work for health care agency policies. He is also a National Leaders Council Fellow and Equity Leadership Fellow, volunteering to support equity & social justice initiatives in New England.
1. What aspects of your degree did you enjoy the most?
The interdisciplinary nature of learning the history, languages, political theory, literature, literary analysis, art history, ancient material culture, philosophy and science all through the study of Ancient Greece, Rome, and the Near East.
2. Looking back, was your degree what you expected?
The courses were always better than expected from undergrad to graduate school coursework, but the lack of guidance/support, the polemical academic politics, and alienation from the very white field was worse than expected (I had taught a young Black Latin student, who had won a National Latin Certamen quiz bowl competition against all other US Latin students, enjoyed getting a Classics and Engineering degree, but he wisely said he had no interest in going to graduate school for Classics - I should have listened to what he was saying).
3. If you could go back and speak to your 18-year-old self, what advice would you give him about choosing a degree?
As an Arab-American college student in 2002-2006, I still would have protested the Iraq War, taken many of the same courses, but I would've recommended asking my advisor as a Freshman how to best prepare for getting into a top graduate program (top 20 universities), especially somewhere I could focus on exploring the political/cultural intersections & exchanges of Greece, Rome, and the Near East (particularly Roman Syria), or if I couldn't get into a top program, then apply to Law School.
4. What was your first job after finishing your degree?
Secondary school Latin Teacher.
5. And what other jobs have you had in your life, related or not to your degree?
Currently, I am a Policy Consultant for a US consulting firm with clients across the country, whom I help with business and paralegal or policy assistance for starting up a home health care practice and getting licensed through their state Health Department. But most of my career was working in Education, Higher Education, and Non-profit organizations focused on racial and climate justice issues, or educational Non-profits helping marginalized students in various ways.
6. In Your professional career, what learnings from your Classics degree have been most useful?
The skills and practices of reading slowly, thinking carefully, the ability to critique and ask good questions, write and communicate effectively, have been crucial and beneficial. Latin can be difficult and boring, but so are most high-paying jobs, so leaning into the boring with occasional fun moments better prepares students for adulthood than constantly trying to make school classrooms fun and "engaging" 100% of the time, which drains teachers' energy beyond repair.
7. Do you consider that anything you learned was useless?
I think there are more useful things I could have been taught to support a career in Classics, or even a career outside of Classics. I've heard of high schools offering financial literacy classes, which would've been great, and my Classics Department programs could've focused on similar ways to help get students thinking about and preparing for various types of professional careers, especially intangible stuff like giving practice interviews, dealing with academic politics, etc. If I were running a college Classics Department, I'd offer a Classics degree program for future writers, editors, filmmakers, etc., a standard degree program for future archaeologists, historians, etc., offer Classics courses for pre-Law students and emphasize how Latin is beneficial for Law school, and Classics courses for pre-med and STEM students on the History of Medicine & Philosophy & Science in Antiquity.
8. How does classics inform your work as a policy consultant?
Classics does help with my consulting job, because I review and copy proof/edit thousands of pages of business contracts, policies, and paralegal type paperwork, which my mastery of language and writing helps. I also have been using my abundant free time to write an academic Latin Novella about Queen Zenobia of Roman Syria, with vocabulary notes and historical commentary in English (I recently gave a talk about the book project at the Classics Association of New England’s Summer Institute hosted by Brown University’s Classics Department).
9. Would you do it again?
I'd do it again, because Latin, Greek, and Ancient Mediterranean Studies were always what I excelled at and loved doing, having earned numerous scholarships, fellowships, etc. I just would've chosen better academic advisors and graduate school programs, like Yale with a strong Near Eastern Studies program where I could’ve worked with Arab scholars on the reception of Greek intellectual, philosophical, and scientific writings by Muslim scholars during the Islamic Golden Age, which preceded the European Renaissance.
I asked Derek Haddad for a 10th interview question. This is what he added:
10. How can Classics survive, or even thrive, into the 21st century without letting racist white supremacists and Christian extremists dominate the field or discourse?
Part 1): Teach students about the bad ideas, false assumptions, and myths about antiquity that many people still believe and perpetuate, sometimes on purpose with bad intentions, so they can figure out how not to fall into ideological traps; teach students early and often about their slave society, martial patriarchal values, and the problematic aspects so as not to blindly praise ancient colonizer enslavers, etc.; also teach early and often Latin roots of modern medical and legal terms, Greco-Roman impact on modern governments and democracies, Greek Myth's impact on modern culture.
Part 2) Educators and Department Chairs need to do much better at explaining to parents, politicians, and communities that Latin and Ancient Studies are still beneficial to help train lawyers, paralegals, medical Doctors, nurses, book editors, writers, architects, etc. They need to demand more funding and better support for these Humanities programs.
Part 3) Stop using the term Classics! Classics is inherently rooted in racist, white supremacist ideology of the 18th century to separate Greece & Rome from all Other civilizations. Rebrand all Classics programs and merge to make it a Global Antiquity, or Ancient Mediterranean Studies, or keep Latin as part of a World Languages Department in secondary schools, etc. Nobody Knows what Classics refers to, anyway, so it'd be better to use a name that clearly explains what students will study.
Greater Boston, USA