Triple major shares importance of an education grounded in language, culture
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.
Micah McCreary transferred to Arizona State University after his freshman year looking for a personal and academic reset.
At his previous institution, he played baseball, studied political science and in his words, was just kind of skating by. When he arrived at ASU, he changed his focus and decided to pursue English as a major.
McCreary found the reset as well as the motivating environment he sought, and this spring will graduate with not one, but three degrees, in English (literature), French and political science; one minor in Asian languages (Chinese); and one certificate in international studies from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. And for his degree in English, he will graduate with the honor of Dean’s Medalist as well as the University Undergraduate Outstanding Student for Humanities.
With plans to attend Harvard Law this fall, McCreary reflected on his time at ASU and shared about his experiences in The College.
Question: How did you end up a triple major after first planning to just pursue an English degree?
Answer: I had to take a French class, which I was really bummed about because I just wanted to fly through my English major as fast as I could and get my degree. My adviser told me to take intensive French so that I could do it faster and get my four semesters done in two. I did that and unwittingly found out that French is amazing and that I wanted to do it more rather than less. And so over the span of a semester I added it as a minor and then the next semester I decided a minor wasn't enough and added it as a concurrent major. At some point I got really good in French and decided to add Chinese as a minor. Well, actually add Chinese as a class and just see if I could get a third language. And, I also unwittingly started to really like Chinese. So I added it as a minor because I wasn't insane … I'm just kidding, I'm completely insane. But instead of a major, I added the flagship program as well so that I could do it a little bit more intensively.
After a while I came across POS 452, a class about Chinese politics. I took that and started crunching the numbers and found out I could do an international study certificate without a whole lot of undue stress. Over time that turned into, “well, I mean it would only take 12 more classes, why not just do an extra major?” I really enjoy political science as well. It was kind of a long road, but each step was something I was really excited about.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: People will tell you all the time that being bilingual is a really big step up in society. I guess I didn't realize until I was bilingual and then trilingual that it's actually even more of an advantage than you think. It doesn't just open up job opportunities or those sort of utilitarian things. It also opens up your mindset and your ability to embrace other people in other cultures. I think I learned that primarily from the teachers I got to work with at ASU, particularly Mariana Bahtchevanova and Frederic Canovas. I had no idea there was such depth of course offerings and in languages that would change my perspective on everything that I do.
Q: What has been your best memory at ASU?
A: I went on my first date with my wife at ASU, we had a picnic in the secret garden at like 9 p.m. and watched movies on my laptop. That was a pretty amazing one. We met in that intensive French class I was talking about. My very first semester at ASU, Dr. Bahtchevanova put us together as partners in a group project and essentially set us up, which was awesome.
Q: People often wonder what a career path looks like for those who pursue a humanities degree, what advice would you give to students considering one?
A: Your humanities major or your desire to pursue humanities does not preclude you from any sort of job opportunities or at least income opportunities that you want to pursue in your life. Maybe you won't be able to work in some biotech lab or a computer chip factory in Silicon Valley but you will be able to put your degree toward basically whatever you decide that you want to do — whether that's making a change or pursuing income or whatever you're passionate about, your opportunities remain close to endless.
Apply yourself and create a narrative for your life. If you can craft a coherent and impactful narrative about your life and where you want to go and the trajectory that you're on, you're going to convince people that you're going to pursue what you want to pursue regardless of the major on your resume. I think that stereotypes are unfair to humanities students. Don't let that get in your way — pursue it with zest and vigor.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: I think one of the defining things about my studies, particularly in the last two years, is that I've worked as a teaching assistant for Dr. Stephanie Deluse in the human event class. I took the abbreviated human event class for transfer students called history of ideas and that class not only changed the way that I think, it also changed the way that I write in such a way that my writing sense has been honestly a world apart from what it was before.
I've been a TA for that class, which is a very interactive role. Ever since, I've not only been writing this way but teaching others to write this way and to think this way and to reason through arguments. Dr. Deluse definitely made the biggest impact on my life as a teacher at ASU and she also wrote one of my best letters of recommendation for my law school application.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Particularly to people who are majoring in writing intensive majors, learn to write as best as you possibly can. Being a good writer will make it so that all the other things in your classes that you're worried about like grades or your applications for jobs and grad school, come together much easier. If you can write effectively, you can write powerfully.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I'm going to Harvard Law School next year and that will be the next three years of my life. After, my plan is to go into a law firm and work for a while to pay off law school debt and then I want to pursue a federal clerkship with a U.S. federal judge both in a district and in appellate court if possible. From there I want to make a pivot into public interest law where I'd like to work in either international human rights so that I can make use of my languages, or potentially work in death penalty litigation — abolition, not furthering the cause of the death penalty or anything like that. That's something that's really near and dear to my heart from a lot of the reading that I've done. I think it would be really wonderful in the long term to become a federal judge.