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CAS Mates: News and Insights from Undergraduate CAS majors and minors

Attention CAS Mates! 

The department will be sharing news and insights from undergraduate CAS majors and minors – your classmates in CAS – in our social media. If you have a story to share, please email our social media liaison, Vanessa McLaughlin at vxm21@psu.edu

Our first feature is an essay originally written by CAS alumna Anna Walkowiak, class of 2022, for CAS 420 Rhetorical Theory (taught by Professor Michele Kennerly). In the essay, Anna reflects on what it means to be a liberal arts and CAS major.

Thank you, Anna, for making CAS your academic home!

Anna Walkowiak  

Class of 2022  

What does it mean to study the Liberal Arts at a state university? At Penn State University? What does it mean to study language as it explains our experience as humans? The Sparks building, home to several Liberal Arts departments, including Communication Arts and Sciences, is where you can find Penn State students working to uncover the answers to such questions. As students in the College of the Liberal Arts, our work often gets misunderstood by our peers and our parents. They think that because our work does not grow in petri dishes inside a lab that it must not be important. Our parents fear we will not find reliable jobs after graduation.  

They could not be more wrong.  

Inside the foyer of Sparks building, an inscription in dark red ink in ancient Greek speaks to the significance of our academic focus. It reads “the unexamined life is not worth living for humans. This fragment itself deserves examination.  

It comes from Plato’s Socrates, from the speech he made in defense of his life.  A small but powerful portion of the fuller quote says “and if again I say that to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to humans, and that the unexamined life is not worth living for humans, you will believe me still less.” He spoke these words at his trial, where he was accused of corruption by encouraging young people to think beyond the bounds of the conventions and gods they were worshipping. While the College of Liberal Arts does not explicitly encourage us to think beyond our religions, the sentiment echoes our mission as liberal arts students. This quote reminds us that to live the human experience in the right way is to look inward but to do so in the company of others. What does it mean to be human alongside other humans? To what are we doomed if we live a life without ever questioning anything? 

Being a Liberal Arts student does not come without challenges. It takes openness and honesty to look at life and our behavior and put it under a microscope, and one different from the STEM sort. Going through a program that highlights the importance of such introspection makes us better students and ultimately better people. Questioning ourselves and the world around us changes our views and shines light onto our experiences. Socrates was right. An unexamined life is not worth living for us humans, and thanks to his commitment to looking beyond we have the privilege of reading his words every day. If we need to be given permission to question our worlds, we can find it in these words.