“Even Artichokes Have Doubts”
The 2015 Common Community Reading “Even Artichokes Have Doubts,” by Marina Keegan
The Common Community Reading (CCR) for Catawba College, class of 2019, will be “Even Artichokes Have Doubts” by Marina Keegan. Students may read this essay before they arrive on campus in August, on their summer retreat, or once they arrive on campus. They will discuss the essay with their peers, advisors, and other faculty and staff during Orientation. Its themes will resonate with all our students as they begin their journey in higher education: What is the purpose of my education? What do I hope to accomplish now, and after graduation? How do I come to understand my vocation? Keegan’s essay is a decidedly-different take on the usual common summer reading for first-year students.
Why this reading? What criteria were used to decide?
The CCR committee Dr. Forrest Anderson (chair), Dr. Norris Feeney, and Dr. Margy Stahr reviewed more than a dozen essays before choosing “Even Artichokes Have Doubts” by Marina Keegan for the Common Community Reading.
The essay was written while Keegan was a student at Yale in 2011 and promptly picked up by The New York Times. Keegan explores why one-fourth of Yale graduates go off to work in the consulting or finance industry. She wants to know why in a place so diverse that so many have similar postgraduate plans. She interviews students about their career choices, professionals in the banking industry, and shares her personal feelings. It upsets her that so many students will go into jobs that aren’t producing something, helping someone, or engaging in something a person is passionate about. At the essay’s heart is the idea that you should never sacrifice your talents and dreams for something as practical as a job.
The committee selected to choose this essay had the following to say:
"The overall tension between doing what you would like (calling, desire for career) vs. doing what you should to make money, keep up with peers is something we could tap into... and it is interesting to use what is essentially a piece of student writing as the common reading... I like the idea that she (a student) is the one questioning the 'goodness' of the lines of work she critiques. It's so much better than, say, professors or graduates writing this lament. She's in it."
What makes this A Not-So-Common Common Community Reading? Well, it’s student writing. It’s conversational, youthful, and sounds like our students. Yet, it’s really fine student writing. Keegan had been hired to work at The New Yorker after graduation. There’s more, though. Keegan died five days after her own commencement at 22. After her death, her professor, Anne Fadiman, collected her essays and stories into a posthumous collection called, The Opposite of Loneliness. The very short title essay would be an excellent companion piece for our seminar professors to use in class.
It’s downright tragic to read Keegan knowing that she’s dead and it lends her writing a sense of urgency.
The Not-So-Common Reading: A Catawba Tradition for First Year Students
The Catawba Common College Reading Program, started in 2005, is an initiative intended to get incoming first-year students talking about important issues from the minute they arrive on campus. The program affords an opportunity to participate in and contribute to the intellectual life of the College and provides a shared academic experience during Orientation and during the first semester. Moreover, the Common College Reading is an introduction to college-level reading and discussion, and an introduction to the type of material common to seminar-style courses. Students discuss the required Common College Reading during Orientation.
Themes in the reading are addressed in a variety of contexts: during formal discussion in Orientation, in individual First-Year Seminars, in the community, during informal conversation (with faculty, ALPHAs, coaches, staff, and other students), and in Lilly Center events such as the values and vocation dinner. Thus, the reading provides a common base for discussion among all members of the campus community for the entire year—and even beyond.
Why is the Catawba’s first-year reading “not-so-common”?
Typically colleges and universities chose a book-length reading that some of the incoming class may choose to read. Because all Catawba College students read our selection and engage with the text in their first days on campus, we instead select a provocative, atypical reading designed to begin the discussion of what we mean by “college level thinking” and also to pique student interest in topics that will resonate with them as they enter into our community and a new phase of their lives.
“Even Artichokes Have Doubts” continues a tradition of an uncommon reading for our new students. Recent readings include the 2014 David Foster Wallace Kenyon College Commencement address “This is Water,” and the 2013 Adam Gopnik New Yorker piece titled “The Real Work: Modern Magic and the Meaning of Life”.
Study and Reading Guide
Before You Read
You are about to read an essay called “Even Artichokes Have Doubts” by Marina Keegan published in the WEEKEND section of the Yale Daily News. Active reading for college requires you to do some work before you actually begin reading. To prepare to read this article, please respond to the following:
- We’ve all heard of Yale, but what do we really know about it? Find out something about Yale University, including where it’s located and how prestigious it is. What are your expectations about Yale students, and are these confirmed or contradicted by what you find?
- Using the Internet, look up at least one of the following items and be prepared to share what you learn with your classmates:
- The Freshmen Screw
- The Last Chance Dance
- The Study
- Class Day Video
- McKinsey & Company
- Hedge Fund
- Mark Cosentino’s Case in Point
- Public Sector
- Private Sector
- Berkeley College
- Town of Wellesley
- Harold Bloom
- Bain & Company
- J.P. Morgan
- Catawba Career Services
While You Read
In college, it is important to read with a pen or pencil in your hand so you can mark passages that seem important (even if you can’t quite say why they’re important), confusing, or strange, and so that you can write down definitions of words you don’t know as you read. You could also write down reactions to what you read, or a note about what something reminds you of from another context.
First, print a copy of the essay. Your professor likely sent you a link to the essay, or forwarded it as a PDF. After you have printed it, please number the pages. This will make it easier for you to take notes and to participate in a discussion of it during Orientation.
Read the list of questions that follows. It is important to read them all before you begin reading the essay so that you know what kind of information to be looking for.
As you read, make notes about the following questions and anything else you want to.
- Keegan establishes her style of writing in her opening sentences when she directly addresses audience members:
If this year is anything like the last 10, around 25 percent of employed Yale graduates will enter the consulting or finance industry. This is a big deal. This is a huge deal. This is so many people! This is one-fourth of our people! Regardless of what you think or with whom you’re interviewing, we ought to be pausing for a second to ask why.
In the margin next to this sentence, make some notes about why you think she directly addresses the reader, and what makes this an effective or ineffective stylistic choice.
- Throughout the article, Keegan writes things like, “I don’t pretend to know anymore about this world than the rest of us. In fact, I probably know less.” Mark sentences that seem similar to these. Is admitting that you are not an expert a good strategy? Does she sell herself short? Why might she be more qualified than she admits to write about this topic?
- Notice that a number of the students Keegan interviews, including Joe Breen, express reservations about taking high-paying jobs that are at odds with their personal goals and beliefs. Mark some of the statements students make to this effect. How would you evaluate the choices they are making?
- Early in her article, Keegan mentions her (fruitless) search for understanding what a consultant does. This sense of vagueness permeates the article, and Keegan draws this theme to the surface as she discusses the consulting firms’ tendency to “[market] themselves as the best and fastest way to train oneself for…anything.” Find and mark the following terms, phrases or statements that suggest the lack of clarity in career choice.
- “valuable skills”
- “transferrable skills”
- “essential skills in some industry”
- “personal development”
- “skills acquisition”
- “some kind of strategic management”
- “stimulating and educational”
In the margins of the text, make notes about what these terms or phrases mean to you. Do the speakers using these phrases in this text appear to have a clear idea of what these phrases mean? Is this problematic? Why or why not? Have you heard any of these terms before in a career or college-guidance services context?
After You Finish Reading
Now that you have finished reading the essay, spend some time reflecting on it. Respond to the following questions, in writing. You should have a conversation with the text. Write down questions you have about the meaning of words, points of disagreement with the author, or to remind yourself to think more deeply about specific passages after your first reading.
- Why do you think Keegan wrote this article? What did you learn from reading it? What might her fellow students at Yale have taken away from it?
- Keegan writes, “As a sophomore, I’d hardly settled on a major, let alone a career path.” What do you think about her being undecided? Do you already have a major and/or career path in mind? Or, are you undecided, too? Are you comfortable with where you are in terms of major/career choice?
- Would you be willing, as some of the students that Keegan interviewed are, to sacrifice your personal goals for a few years to learn skills and earn money?
- Keegan found it difficult to find interview subjects for her article, “For every student I interviewed, at least four others refused.” She points out that in the digital age job seekers were reluctant to provide “angsty quotes about Their Doubts and Their Hopes” out of a concern potential employers might find their comments online. Do you temper your comments in the age of a permanent record on Google? Is there a cost associated with this self-silencing out of fear for the future?
- Throughout the article, several interviewed students express frustration about not knowing how to get a job in their dream field, that there isn’t a ready-made ‘application form’ like there is in consulting and finance. Jeff Gordon, for example, compares the job hunting process to applying to college. Did applying to college feel like a ready-made, established process? Have you ever applied to a position or done something that was messy and confusing? How did it feel? Are you comfortable with uncertainty?
- Visit the www.artichokesociety.org funded by the Artichoke Fund (www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/31/marina-keegan-yale-studen_n_1560244.html). What sort of organization is The Artichoke Society? Where is the society located? Do you think Keegan would be pleased with the impact of her article?
- Why does Keegan emphasize the importance of 23, 24, 25. What is it about this age that holds so much promise for change? People frequently encourage graduating seniors in high school and college to “get out there and change the world” and often offer an example. How can you change the world at the end of your college career as a 21- or 22-year old?
- Are these examples truly “world-changing” or are many overblown?
- Do you feel empowered or discouraged when tasked with something as grand as “changing the world”?
- Is “changing the world” always a good thing?
- Are small changes to the world and the impact you have on those around you in your community as important as these “big” changes parents, teachers, and other well-meaning people cite as examples for you to follow?