EUA’s Humans of English: Alison Lafferty

This week we are featuring two installments of EUA’s Humans of English series, both featuring graduating seniors; this reflection is from Alison Lafferty
My name is Ali, I started at Berkeley as a Mathematics-intended freshman in 2013, and now I’m a graduating senior in English and Italian Studies! After a few days taking math and English 45C (with Professor Goble) simultaneously, I quickly realized math wasn’t for me and switched my focus to English. After overcoming the grueling course that was English 45A the following semester (yes, I know I did the pre-reqs out of order, it’s fine, I promise) I made the decision to declare the English major. It’s been four years and I’ve never regretted that choice.

I’ve always been a reader–I used to get in trouble for reading Harry Potter and A-Z Mysteries by flashlight in kindergarten–but I had never given much thought to what happens when one reads, the work our brain does to make sense of the text. In the Berkeley English Department, I fell in love with analyzing literature, passionately dissecting it to make new meanings from works that have been read and discussed for centuries. I particularly enjoyed Professor Goodman’s Milton course; Paradise Lost is my favorite work in the English language, and spending a whole semester with John Milton was an incredible experience. Later, however, I found my place with more contemporary work, conducting my own independent research on recent Holocaust literature and trauma theory. The English Department here has always been replete with resources; I can’t count anymore the number of times I’ve shown up at a professor’s door with nothing more than an idea, only to walk away with a list of possible sources and many more ideas to follow.

Although after graduating I’ll be teaching in Italy, pursuing things more related to my Italian Studies degree, the English program has made me who I am. Berkeley English tested me, and I’d like to think I survived. While the program can be daunting and we Berkeley students are notorious for loading ourselves down with more courses and papers than we think we can bear, these last four years have been surprisingly fun and phenomenally rewarding. I learned how to formulate my own ideas, how to defend those ideas, and how to watch politely as other people tore them apart and told me to do better. And although sometimes failures–bad paper grades, having someone refute your idea in discussion–feel permanent, we do learn and improve. We do learn how to tell Joe Hipster in our English 190 seminar that Kerouac isn’t the best thing since sliced bread; we do find ways to express our ideas so that our professors and readers validate our arguments.

The creating and sharing of ideas and the triumphs thereof are what I will take away from my four years in this department. I will never forget all the times somebody else inspired me with a witty comment in lecture, and I’ll never forget the late nights peer editing final papers in Moffitt and being impressed by the depth and quality of my peers’ own arguments. And while I will miss these experiences, I feel confident in going forth from Berkeley and continuing to discuss and produce knowledge with others. At the end of the day (the long, long day where you wake up at 5am to finish a midterm paper and then stay on campus until 8pm so you can go to Berkeley Connect because damn it, you love Berkeley Connect), this is what being an English major has meant to me.

When it comes to undergraduate students in the English Department, The English Undergraduate Association is a community touchstone for one of the largest departments in the College of Letters and Science at Cal. Since 1993, the English Undergraduate Association has hosted literary activities, provided opportunities to network, and helped English majors connect with one another. The EUA’s Humans of English series highlights the myriad stories of English majors in the department.

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