Emily Paster '96, Attorney, City of Chicago
French & Italian
Why I chose Romance languages and literatures
While it was small in size, the Romance languages department (now French & Italian) was anything but small in stature. To the contrary, it contained one of the most distinguished French departments in the country. The combination of its size and pre-eminence meant that I received individual attention from world-renowned scholars, such as François Rigolot, Thomas Pavel (one of my thesis readers), and Suzanne Nash. Indeed, because I took more than one class with some of my professors, and because our classes were typically seminars -- both advantages of a small department -- I was able to develop a good working relationship with my favorite professors.
Also, I chose the Romance languages department because I wanted to study abroad. At Princeton, studying abroad can be somewhat more complicated than it is at other schools because of the two required junior papers. I knew that the professors in Romance languages would wholeheartedly support my desire to study abroad and help me complete my junior papers from afar. In fact, the department enthusiastically supported my choice to spend my junior year in Paris, and my junior paper adviser was incredibly accommodating, going so far as to schedule transatlantic phone calls at odd hours and, back in the days before e-mail, editing my drafts via fax.
From language to law
After graduating from Princeton, I attended law school at the University of Michigan. Despite my background in French, I did not gravitate toward international law, preferring instead my constitutional law and employment discrimination classes. Since completing law school, I have clerked for two federal judges and worked as an appellate litigator in the city of Chicago's law department.
Value to my career
Clearly, I have not made a career out of my love for 19th-century French literature. Nevertheless, I would certainly credit my French studies with helping me to be a better lawyer. First, any major in which one writes a lot is excellent preparation for a legal career, where the ability to write clearly and gracefully is paramount. Second, reading and analyzing literary texts is remarkably similar to reading and analyzing legal precedents, although the legal precedents are rarely as well-written or enjoyable to read!
Being a lawyer, or, at least, a litigator, requires the ability to think creatively, to structure an argument, and to draw parallels between situations that, at face value, appear different. That is exactly what I did as a French major when I wrote about the portrayal of prostitutes in the stories of Guy de Maupassant -- only then I did it in another language.
But, even if my French studies had not helped me be a better litigator, they still would have been worthwhile because I loved them. They allowed me to immerse myself in a language and culture that was not my own, and, in so doing, made me a better citizen of the world.