I Fought the Law and the Law Won by
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Getting my diploma – with Lowell House Master Zeph Stewart

Before I start my own story, I have to explain how this prompt, College Majors as Career Gaugers, came about. I subscribe to a listserv of members of the class preceding mine at my alma mater, which actively discusses myriad topics on a daily basis. A few months ago, somebody posed the question: did your college concentration have any bearing on what career you ended up pursuing? (At our alma mater one’s field of study is called a concentration rather than a major. No idea why.) Lots of people responded, and the answers were so fascinating that I realized it would make a great prompt for Retrospect. The email string was called Concentrations and Careers, which has a nice alliteration to it, but to make it universal, I knew I had to use the word Majors instead. Majors and Careers didn’t cut it. So I turned to fellow Retrospecter and college pal John Shutkin to come up with a clever title. He suggested several that I won’t repeat, but he did have the great idea of rhyming Majors with Gaugers. I wasn’t sure at first – what if people read it as GOUGERS instead of GAUGERS? But the idea grew on me, and my two co-administrators gave it the thumbs up, so here we are. I know Gaugers is a weird word – what’s that U doing in there? Etymologists, please discuss.

As for me, if I had gone to college at any time other than the late Sixties, I would have picked English as my concentration. Reading novels and talking about them is one of my favorite things to do – that’s why I am in two book clubs now. But then 1968 happened. After graduating from high school, I worked for the McCarthy campaign, went to Chicago for the Democratic Convention, got teargassed, and then (as I have written in other stories) went to college to learn how to be a revolutionary. The Government Department seemed like the best place to do that. So I became a Government concentrator – which would be called a Political Science major anywhere else.

I didn’t think too much about career goals, other than revolutionary, for a while. By junior year, I began to have aspirations of going into politics, maybe running for office myself. Subverting the system from within. In order to do that, I felt like I needed a credential of some sort, so I could say I was a something (lawyer, urban planner, policy analyst, whatever). Senior year I took the LSAT and the GRE. I got fabulous scores on the GRE, and mediocre ones on the LSAT (hmm, should that have told me something?). I definitely wanted to take some time off before going to any kind of graduate program, because I was tired of being in school, so I didn’t apply anywhere that year. After I graduated, I got a job with the US Department of Transportation. They were looking for an economist or an urban planner, and I was neither, but they hired me anyway, and I stayed there for two years, studying things like Personal Rapid Transit in Morgantown, West Virginia, and a new transit system planned for the Bay Area called BART.

When I realized there wasn’t much of a future for me at DOT, I decided the next step was law school. I didn’t intend to practice law, it was just something to give me credibility when I ran for office. That was still my plan. But by the time I finished three years of law school, I realized two things: I didn’t want to subject myself to the rigors of running for office (especially in the post-Watergate era when everyone was looking for scandals), and I actually found some aspects of the law interesting. So, much to my surprise, I ended up with a thirty-year career as a lawyer, mostly at the California Attorney General’s Office, with a brief detour at the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. It had absolutely nothing to do with the Government courses I took in college. So while it may have been predictable that a Government concentration would lead to being a lawyer, in my case it really wasn’t a career-gauger.

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Characterizations: well written

Comments

  1. As the perpetrator of the topic on the listserv I’ll speak up, not to claim credit but instead to redirect it. The post was based on an article in the Washington Post in March entitled “The Most Consequential, and Least Informed, Decision College Students Make” Here’s the link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2019/03/29/most-influential-least-informed-decision-college-students-make/
    I apologize if it turns out that this is behind a pay wall or has become unavailable.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for that link, Tom. I was able to read the article, but I subscribe to WaPo so I don’t know if others would hit a paywall. Fascinating article, and it made a great prompt for us, lots of stories already and it’s only the first day! So thank you for “perpetrating” the topic!

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Thanks for the shout out and for not disclosing my other suggested titles — there were a few real groaners in there. Ironically, I always assumed you were another “pre-law-er” like me, especially since you “concentrated” (majored) in “government” (political science), so I really enjoyed reading about how this was hardly the case for you. It really adds an interesting twist to the question underlying this prompt as to the correlation – or not — between major and career. That said, a 30-year legal career certainly makes clear that, even if it wasn’t exactly manifest destiny for you to become a lawyer, it sure worked out just fine.

    And congratulations and thanks for this really thought-provoking prompt!

    • Suzy says:

      I now look at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others elected last year, and realize I didn’t necessarily have to become a “something” in order to run for office. On the other hand, I never ran for office, so we’ll never know. Our mutual friend Paul had the same plan, and in a small state like Rhode Island he probably could have succeeded, but I guess he changed his mind too.

  3. Marian says:

    Interesting, Suzy, I’m glad you explained the disconnect between your government concentration and the law field. Never would have guessed that, just assumed that there was a stronger relationship.

    • Suzy says:

      Marian, almost everybody I knew in college was going either to law school or medical school, regardless of what they majored in. While there were prerequisites for med school, there were none whatsoever for law school, so it was pretty much the default decision.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Suzy, I love your journey. Right now, I’m looking at the “McCarthy: More than Ever” button pinned on my bulletin board next to my computer. 1968 was a year that shaped a generation. I wish there had been a college major in resistance and revolution, although I guess folks who went deeply down that rabbit hole didn’t end well.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Laurie. I love it that you have that button on your bulletin board! My daughter had a course in college called “Revolutions: America in the ’60s,” but it was in the History Dept, as opposed to being a guide to how to do it now. I think we are seeing that resistance and revolution are even more needed now than they were then.

  5. I must admit, I first read the prompt as gougers. Did my first major gouge me? No. But applaud the determination with which you re-directed your interest to meet the call of the day! A great story!

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, I already knew much of your journey, but think there is more of a link than you might realize, as lawyers are thoughtful people who try to do what is right and correct the wrongs of the world (or am I just being an idealist…I can certainly amend that statement to omit our current AG and Brett Kavanagh, who clearly lied under oath). That is right up your alley and perhaps meshes with your concentration in some abstract way.

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, you’re right about lawyers (for the most part), and I think it turned out to be the right career for me. But my concentration in Government wasn’t what led me to law school, so it wasn’t a “career gauger.”

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