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English Student and Alumni Profiles

Name

Wesley Cocozello

Graduation Year

2014

Education

Bachelor of Arts

Current Job

Creative Consultant for the Urban Land Institute.

Why did you major in English?

Because English, fundamentally, is the study of words and stories. Given that those two things are what make possible human civilization and human consciousness, the enterprise is nothing short of trying to grasp what little we can of life itself. Few things excite me more.

Tell us about a skill you learned/developed as an English major that has helped you out in the "real world"

Learning how to learn.
 
English does not equip you, like Architecture or Chemistry, with a specific body of knowledge (well, it does, but believe me, scanning the meter of a poem only gets you strange looks, not paychecks). Knowing, however, how to enter an unfamiliar situation and quickly adapt to the rules, conventions, and procedures of, say, a non-profit does get you a paycheck. That’s English’s “competitive advantage:” an English major’s job prospects aren't limited to any single profession (or industry) like many other majors are. That freedom, however, does come with a price, as candidates with more specialized knowledge/experience are more likely to beat you in the hiring process. But, I've come to learn that though those people will have more initial success, the English major will have more lasting one.

What was the best English class you took at CUA and why?

ENG 351 (“Chaucer and his Age I”); and it was the best class I took because it featured the most transformative lecture I've heard.  
 
It was the last day and Dr. Wright (or Steve, as I’m supposed to call him now) was set to give his lecture on “Chaucer’s Retraction.” He told us that some critics have argued that the “Retraction”  is an embarrassment to literature, since in it one of the greatest writers ever condemns (apparently) his life’s work. But Steve knows Chaucer better than most critics and over the course of an hour or so he showed us the truth of the “Retraction:” that literature is not, and perhaps should never be, a thing done unto itself – that it’s lasting value can be found only after you've stopped reading. “It’s an instructive dream, maybe even a beautiful one,” I remember Steve saying. “But it’s just a dream, and we have to wake up now – we have lives to live.”
 
Radical stuff, that.

If you could give one piece of advice to current students, what would it be?

CUA advice: Go abroad! Not going is the single thing about my CUA experience that I regret.
 
Post-CUA advice: Get comfortable with failure and learn to love the struggle. Once I could no longer rely on the predetermined structures, and the predictable comforts, of school, I found it more difficult than I ever conceived it would be to create a life for myself. Creating something meaningful is hard – you know this having studied some of the greatest creators ever born. By your first or second year out of college, you may not have written that novel or play or poem-cycle you were meaning to write. You may not even have a job. And you certainly won’t have won the Pulitzer. But that’s okay – because creating something meaningful takes time. So save yourself the agony and turn the burners on low: you’ll get there…eventually, and with more to savor for it.

Which text was your favorite to read while you were a student at CUA? In which class did you read it?

I’m going to cheat because this question is too hard: 

Dracula by Bram Stoker in ENG 333 (“Intensive Reading: Narrative) with Dr. Okuma
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer in ENG 351 (“Chaucer and his Age I”) with Dr. Wright
An Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope in ENG 302 (“Creative Writing: Poetry”) with Mr. Ryan Wilson

What’s next for you?

The blessed curse of the English major (and I’m utterly convinced of this) is that it widens the scope of your horizons beyond what any and every other major can offer you. You will see possibilities that, because of the breath and the depth of your readings, others will never get to see; you will see life in such a multitudinous variety that, at frequent intervals, you will be overwhelmed. But having access to this wide vantage has made my, and will make your, choosing a path all the more difficult. Nurses shall become nurses and engineers shall become engineers. But what shall English majors become? I’m still not sure yet.