First Person:The Comfort of Options

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Marybeth Campeau ’11

In ninth grade , I took an Art-I class that covered the basics of studio art in one easy-to-swallow dose. About midway through the semester, my teacher approached me while I was absorbed in a still life and asked me to step outside the classroom to talk. Bewildered, I followed her out the door, whereupon she said, quite suddenly, “You draw like a robot.”

I stared in baffled silence. Was that a compliment? Should I thank her or cry? She pulled out items in my pint-sized ninthgrade portfolio, pointing out various elements of my work and informing me that it was “excessively crisp,” “disturbingly precise,” and “unfed by emotion.”

Thanks?

Four years later, I stepped onto Davidson College’s campus as a work-study student assigned to the College Communications Office. Although I had absolutely no experience with essential software for the job, I loved working in the office. With lots of help and patience from the staff, I figured out the basics of Photoshop and InDesign and started creating posters for campus events.

I have worked in the office for four years now, and was twice selected to edit the Wildcat Handbook, the freshman “face” book and guide to campus life. I was lucky to discover a passion through my campus job, but I struggled with the conundrum of pursuing a passion that was practical and technical in an institution that extolled the virtues of the liberal arts.

Instead of taking the typical study-abroad route, I enrolled for a semester at Savannah College of Art and Design to brush up on typographic, graphic, and publication design. Objectively, I knew that letter-spacing and typefaces should be mind-numbing—my Davidson peers’ eyes glazed over when I explained what I was learning in school. But I loved exploring the world of fonts, grids, and kerning. Instead of viewing my ninth-grade teacher’s prophetic assessment of my artwork as criticism, I used it as a battle cry. I draw like a robot! My art will be clean and precise if I want it to be. I’m using a computer to make it, for heaven’s sake.

We can define ourselves in different ways, emphasizing different components of our identity. At Davidson, I’ve tussled with which aspect of my identity was more fundamental—who was I first and foremost, a design student or a liberal arts student? Given my multiple interests, Davidson has allowed me to craft multiple identities on campus. I am a political science major with a gender studies concentration. I’ve interned at the Foreign Service Institute and at a studio producing a documentary on honor-related violence against women. I edited the Dean Rusk travel magazine, and now, I plan to work for the Peace Corps in sub- Saharan Africa with the Girls’ Education and Empowerment program. At the same time, I am a graphic design nerd who can spot a typographical error at 20 feet.

I have pursued all of these paths during my four years on campus, and I am convinced that a liberal arts degree can inform a more technical career. I will graduate as a human broadly capable of reading, writing, and understanding new and complex ideas, which is essential for any job, in the liberal arts realm or otherwise.

On average, my generation of college students will change jobs more than 10 times in their lives. Wow. But the good news is that I, like many Davidson students, have many passions. Already, I am planning on one job transition—the Peace Corps is a mere 27-month commitment. After that? I intend to pursue jobs in policy, women’s rights, design, even something I have yet to encounter. Who knows? But I am comforted by the presence of options.

Photo: Bill Giduz
Drawing: Marybeth Campeau

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