Op-Ed

French literature degree helped prepare me for law career, life

Ross Ewing
Ross Ewing

Like many people, I was shocked to read Gov. Matt Bevin’s comments about French literature majors — not only because of his own education background, but because his comments were utterly divorced from the reality of my own career.

I graduated from the University of Kentucky with a bachelor’s degree in French literature in 2005. In the decade that followed, I went on to obtain a law degree, start a business, create a couple of jobs and develop a thriving practice in family law.

Many people come to me for professional advice during their most difficult and trying times, and the work that I do provides a livelihood for assistants, paralegals and others in my office.

While law school enabled me to obtain a law license, studying French and French literature gave me skills and qualities that are equally useful in the practice of law. It made me a stronger and more concise writer — something every judge appreciates.

Speaking in French, when I was not always sure of myself, taught me to be courageous and creative. I learned to speak up even when I risked not being understood, and I had to say things differently than I would in casual English conversation. I learned to make a point several different ways. Again, these are skills I use daily in my career.

In the practice of family law, I often meet new people at their worst and most vulnerable, but I feel like I have met them before. I met them in the works of Camus, Sartre and Colette, to name but a few. French literature is filled with tales of deception, greed, hope, despair — many of the same motives and concerns I sense behind the words of my clients and opposing parties. My success frequently comes from spotting and addressing these age-old human conditions.

I am profoundly grateful for the education I received in French, and I am proud that it came from Kentucky public schools: first at Apollo High School in Owensboro and later at UK. My education came in large part from taxpayer dollars. Undoubtedly this public investment paid off, not only for me, but for my clients, coworkers and employees, among others.

Bevin’s inability to see this obvious economic value is troubling. His apparent devotion to a small set of “practical” degrees is shallow and shortsighted, even for a politician.

Perhaps he would benefit from a seminar in French or another look at comparative literature. Until then, we must continue to support and protect public education in all subjects and at all levels. There is plainly more than one path to success, and Kentucky taxpayers cannot afford to gamble with our future by eliminating those that are currently unfashionable.

Ross T. Ewing is a Lexington family-law attorney.

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