Opinion | College Grads, Do ‘Follow Your Passions’

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To the Editor:

Re “The Most Common Graduation Advice Tends to Backfire,” by Sapna Cheryan and Therese Anne Mortejo (Opinion guest essay, nytimes.com, May 22):

As an aged hippie uncle of 11 nieces, I found Dr. Cheryan’s research findings discouraging. She found that if young people are encouraged to follow their passions, they tend to conform to societal expectations of traditional gender norms: Men choose sciences, women choose arts.

If the future is indeed female (my hope), then women cannot wait around for society’s expectations to change. Women’s engagement with learning and one another must change.

Some unsolicited advice for young women, at the risk of mansplaining:

1) Don’t worry about what major you choose in college. Go with your passions, even. Most college graduates ultimately build careers in areas of work that have little bearing on what their college major was.

2) Attend a college that offers a five-year degree program, with plenty of internship opportunities in the field you think you are interested in. You get to “test drive” your career choice before fully committing.

3) Invest in graduate education. College teaches us to learn; graduate school teaches us to think. The world will get better only when qualified women at scale advance fully in the marketplace of ideas.

4) Reach out to female executives in fields that might interest you. Oldsters’ experience might just keep you from painting yourselves into a stereotypical corner.

Ted Gallagher
New York

To the Editor:

The authors of “The Most Common Graduation Advice Tends to Backfire” are right about the earnings gaps for graduates who “follow their passions,” but for one caveat: At America’s most selective colleges, humanities majors do just fine.

According to PayScale, Ivy League humanities grads make $70,000 a year — the median American household income — in the years immediately after graduating, and the average humanities grad from a top U.S. college makes six figures by midcareer.

The issue is that an elite education in the humanities is inaccessible to most young people. The Ivy League acceptance rate was 4.9 percent in 2022, and even outside these impossibly selective institutions, many American universities have more students from the top 1 percent than the bottom 60 percent, and their student bodies remain disproportionately white.

Students from lower income quartiles, who are disproportionately Black and brown, are then much more likely to be told to shelve their passions in the name of “practicality.”

It’s crushing to think about all the talent and passion lost to inequality. Students can certainly make a living following their hearts in the humanities, languages and arts, but only if our top universities give students of all backgrounds equal opportunities to do so.

Maddie Ulanow
The author is a humanities graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School.

Right-to-Shelter Laws Saved My Life

To the Editor:

Re “New York’s ‘Right to Shelter’ Must Change. The Alternative Is Los Angeles,” by Linda Gibbs (Opinion guest essay, nytimes.com, May 25):

New York City’s right-to-shelter laws saved my life when as a youth I was rendered homeless by a fire in 2007. They allowed me to get my college degree and become the stable 36-year-old I am today.

They were my only source of psychological security after losing everything — assurance that no matter how bad things got, I would never have to sleep outside. This sense of safety allowed me to refuse predatory older men offering “housing” for a price.

I now work in homeless services in Oakland, Calif., and see the human cost of not implementing such laws. As a vulnerable queer teenager, I would have never been able to navigate the Orwellian process of shelter referrals currently in place here.

How negative really are the downsides listed by Ms. Gibbs? The ability to drop off problematic family members before reaching crisis may prevent domestic violence. Family reunification in shelters prevents kids from languishing in foster care (or on the street, as I see firsthand in Oakland).

Housing is a human right, and access to it should be absolute everywhere.

Stefani Echeverría-Fenn
Oakland, Calif.

I Like My Commute

To the Editor:

Re “Office Workers Don’t Hate the Office. They Hate the Commute,” by Farhad Manjoo (column, May 22):

Can commutes be frustrating, inconvenient and stressful? Absolutely! But they can also be a source of reflection, social interaction and good feeling.

I recall driving commutes in which I enjoyed watching the changing of the seasons and listening to music, entertainment or news on the radio. While taking public transportation to work in Boston and San Francisco, I read books or newspapers, ran into friends or acquaintances, and learned about concerts or other events from signs or overheard conversations.

More often than not, the commute could be the most looked-forward-to part of the workday. It also required me to get organized in advance, say, by packing a lunch or a gym bag. The walk to and from stations, with a stop along the way for coffee or groceries, provided exercise.

If the goal of human existence were mere convenience, we would never develop the resilience skills necessary for coping with adversity.

Brent Sverdloff
Rhinebeck, N.Y.

How to Teach Reading

To the Editor:

Re “Snag in City’s Reading Overhaul May Be Educators” (news article, May 28):

I retired from teaching in 2007. How to teach reading was always subject to different and changing philosophies and theories. Most of us never gave up on teaching phonics to some extent, since it only makes sense to learn the code if you want to learn the language.

But I often think of my parents, who attended New York City public schools beginning in the 1920s as first-generation children born in the U.S. and whose first language was not English. They attended school only through high school.

They were always more competent spellers than I was and surpassed me in writing fluency. And I’m sure their literacy education consisted of phonics, drills and many worksheets.

Maybe the education leaders today could learn something from their approach and all agree on getting back to basics.

Carol Shurman
New York

DeSantis’s Praise for Justice Thomas

To the Editor:

Re “Trump Rival Floats Idea: ‘7-2’ Majority on the Court” (news article, May 24):

In his remarks to the National Religious Broadcasters Convention, Gov. Ron DeSantis referred to Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito of the Supreme Court as “the gold standard for jurisprudence.”

But, in fact, Justice Thomas’s capacity for the judicious and unbiased review of cases that come before the court has been terminally undermined by his well-documented flouting of any reasonable norms of transparency and by his callous insensitivity to the perception that his serial self-dealing with a major Republican donor has put a fist on the scales of justice.

Therefore, with his comments, Mr. DeSantis has now taken full ownership of Justice Thomas’s ethical failings. Surely, this approach will play well with the Republican base that Mr. DeSantis is seeking to co-opt from Donald Trump.

But as far as appealing to the kind of independent voters who will determine the outcome of the 2024 general election, his comments are but one more example of how, while seeking to confer a gold standard on others, Mr. DeSantis has the most un-Midas-like touch.

Chuck Cutolo
Westbury, N.Y.

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