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Why I chose religion (Alice Ayres)

When I arrived at Princeton as a freshman, I was intent on being a Woodrow Wilson School major. I had grown up in Washington, D.C., surrounded by politics. Studying with the professors at the Wilson School was one of my main reasons for choosing Princeton.

Then I took Professor Malcolm Diamond's ''Introduction to World Religions'' class, and a whole new way of looking at the world opened before my eyes. Professor Diamond had a way of teaching that was like letting you in on a secret, and because the department was small, he gave the lectures and conducted most of the precepts himself, so I had a lot of exposure to him. Although I loved that class and Professor Gager's class on early Christianity, it was only when I began to fill out the application for acceptance to the Wilson School that I wondered whether I was making the right choice. My favorite classes -- the ones with the readings that I really looked forward to -- were all in the religion department.

I called my generally pragmatic mother (an economics major herself) and told her of my dilemma. Rather than push me toward the Wilson School, she told me that the best way for me to learn what I needed to learn in college was by choosing something I enjoyed. Her philosophy, which I subscribe to even more now that I have been out in the working world for several years, is that a liberal arts education is all about teaching you to think, to write, and to put together a logical argument. I learned all of that and more as I dove into my senior thesis topic with real enthusiasm. I remember feeling sad for my friends who had chosen a concentration that left them with a topic they didn't love. I enjoyed writing my thesis significantly more than they did because I was truly captivated by my topic.

Value to my career

I also learned how to look at things through the eyes of other people, and that has served me well in business school and in my career in marketing. My field is all about being able to put yourself in the shoes of someone else to better understand what they might think, want, or do in any given situation. Seeing the world through another person's religion was a powerful way to learn how to get outside of myself and my experiences. I also learned how to write well, think analytically, and explain myself logically, which are important skills for my profession.

When Charlie, my son, goes off to college, my husband and I will encourage him to find a concentration that he loves, rather than choosing the department that everyone else is in or that is obviously ''useful'' for a profession. After all, without a small department with lots of chances to get to know other students, there wouldn't be a Charlie!

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