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Liberal arts education offers varied pathways to success
“You do not need to put pen to paper to be a great author. Every one of us here is an author. We are all authors of our own lives, and we have the power to make them great.”
When Shams Elmutwalli, English literature graduate from American University of Sharjah (AUS), addressed her fellow graduates at her commencement ceremony, she did so with refreshing honesty and grounded perspective.
With AUS founder His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council of the United Arab Emirates, Ruler of Sharjah and President of AUS, in attendance, Iraqi-born Elmutwalli shared her own story:
“I had my doubts and uncertainties, as I am sure most of you did too, about where I was going and who I wanted to be. I changed majors more times than I can count, I took a semester off, I questioned what the purpose of it all was, and at one point I tried to convince myself that if Steve Jobs didn’t need a degree then maybe I didn’t either. Safe to say, I was your archetypal first-year college student,” she said.
Like many young people, Elmutwalli didn’t finish high school with a clear vision of what she wanted to study or what career path to take. Instead, she took advantage of AUS’s liberal arts model of education, which allows students to explore a range of subjects or disciplines while (or even before) pursuing a specific major.
“I really only settled on my major at the end of my second year of studies,” said Elmutwalli.
Resisting the conservative view that an engineering or business degree holds more value, Elmutwalli’s recognized that if her passions and strengths were in English literature, she should pursue a career path in that direction.
“I like to push back against the misleading idea that a degree in a creative major or in the humanities holds no value. It’s important for students to know that there are different paths you can take and there are solid career opportunities with a degree like mine,” she said.
Taking advantage of the opportunity to intern in a range of different roles with various organizations during her time at AUS, Elmutwalli is working toward a career in publishing and hopes also to write her own novel one day.
“The path to discovering what I love and what I’m good at hasn’t been a straight line—and I think that’s exciting,” said Elmutwalli, who also looks forward to broadening her experience through travel and working abroad.
While in the past career success was linked to the ability to stick with one particular profession and work your way up the corporate ladder, today’s graduates are more inclined to take more of a “road less-travelled” approach.
The 2019 Millennial Manager Workplace Survey by leading employee experience platform developer Akumina revealed that millennials are changing career paths more frequently than any other generation, with 40 percent of the 18- to 36-year-old respondents saying they had already changed jobs up to four times since graduating high school or university.
Employers are obviously responding to this, as global recruitment firm Michael Page last year listed adaptability as the top skill required by employers, revealing that the ability for organizations and individuals to “pivot” and be willing to apply their skills to a wide range of roles and opportunities is essential for future success.
This adaptability was also modeled for Elmutwalli and her classmates by the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences at AUS.
“AUS gave me a new perspective. I would talk to my professors who were so successful—they had their work published and had worked for some amazing companies before they became professors—and I saw that theirs had been a journey that wasn’t so straightforward. By meeting them, learning their stories and hearing their advice, I realized there are so many different branches, there’s so much more than I realized,” she said.
It is clear from her commencement speech that Elmutwalli has taken this to heart:
“It is easy to get pulled into the world of fiction, where an obstacle can be easily written off, but reality may not always be that straightforward. We may not get that job we had our heart set on, the first draft of that book may not be the best, and the company you hope to start might not take off the first time around. In moments like these, it might feel easier to give up and walk away but in the midst of those struggles, think back to your time here; you made it here.”
“While we may not walk out of this chapter of our lives with complete assurance of where to go next, we will do so assured of who we are and what we have to give and that belief will continue to propel us forward until we get to where we need to. When Alice finds herself directionless in Wonderland, she does not know where she wants to go but just hopes to get somewhere. In the wise words of the Cheshire Cat, ‘you’re sure to do that’ if ‘only you walk long enough.’”
For more information about the liberal arts undergraduate programs offered at American University of Sharjah, visit www.aus.edu.
All AUS undergraduate programs benefit from a strong liberal arts core. To learn more, visit www.aus.edu/academics/