John Marrs ‘03
Classics at Southwestern prepared John for the rigors of law school
“As a freshman at Southwestern, an older and presumably wiser graduate advised me to “just major in something that interests you, because it probably won’t matter after graduation and you don’t need to decide a life-long career path at age 18.” So I chose Classics simply because the tales from Greek mythology entertained me growing up and I liked the Latin classes I took in high school. The blunt advice I received turned out to be partially correct: studying Greek myths and the like was more interesting to me than some of the alternatives I considered, so I’m glad I chose a major based on pure interest as opposed to envisioning my career at age 18. However, my Classics major and the tutelage of the Classics department (and Dr. Haskell in particular, as my advisor) have served me well since graduating Southwestern. I ended up going to law school, and I now make daily use the analytical skills acquired as a Classics major in my law practice.
“I found there was much more to a Classics major than Greek myths and beginner’s Latin. We translated from Greek and Latin many of the great works of famous ancient figures, such as Socrates, Cicero, and Homer. We studied Greek and Roman cultures, their art and architecture, and the Classical civilizations’ impact on the modern world. It was challenging and fascinating at once, due not only to the content of what I studied, but also thanks to the inspired instruction from Dr. Haskell and the rest of the department. With the advent of the Sunoiksis program at Southwestern came an opportunity to study with Classics professors and students from a number of colleges across the South. My biggest regret was not studying abroad at one of Dr. Haskell’s archeological digs in Turkey or elsewhere.
“The long hours spent holed up in the library translating and studying at Southwestern prepared me for law school; the only drawback was that law school was profoundly boring compared to my Classics courses. However, the acquired skill of careful analysis inherent to translating any language—but ancient Greek and Latin in particular, with their comparatively complicated conjugations and declensions—is especially applicable to the study and practice of law. The research papers I wrote for my Classics courses prepared me for the large amounts of reading and writing that both law school and my law practice require. When I worked as a litigator, the mechanical logic of translating helped me formulate legal theories for the cases I handled. I now have a primarily transactional law practice that involves interpreting, negotiating, and drafting contracts and legal instruments for oil and gas companies—it too is a fitting progression from my time as a Classics major.
“After I accepted a law clerk position at a firm in Austin my second year of law school, the partner who interviewed me mentioned my Classics major as one of the things that stood out on my resume. I can see a Classics degree, or major or minor in either Greek or Latin, being useful to much more than a career in law, though, even in an occupation that requires specific preparatory courses such as medicine or engineering. When I used to help my wife Caroline study during medical school, I found I had a decent knowledge of medical terms already, simply because it seemed so much medical terminology has a Latin or Greek root. So I would modify the advice I received to say if you choose a major that genuinely interests and challenges you, expect it to impact your career after graduation. And study abroad, especially if you have an opportunity to go on an archeological dig—it may be a long time before you have the freedom again to spend a semester’s time studying overseas.”