Vivian Rodarte

Why did you come to Willamette—and why major in English?

I knew when I was initially applying for colleges that I wanted to go to a liberal arts school with small class sizes and a strong English department, and Willamette certainly fit the bill. But I didn’t decide on WU until I visited during my Bearcat preview day. I am from Southern California, and it was my first trip to Oregon. What shocked me most was all the green everywhere. If you are from SoCal you might understand the appeal. The campus was stunning, I was excited to live somewhere new, and I got on great with the students I met—especially the English majors.

When I got to Willamette, I thought I was ready to pledge myself to the English Department. But the very nature of a liberal arts degree means you take classes in multiple disciplines, and I found that my love of reading and discussion could be applied elsewhere—in the History and the Politics departments. I was seduced by the challenge that all three disciplines offered. In the second semester of my sophomore year, when I finally declared an English major, I realized there was no reason I had to give up anything. I chose English because it challenged me and offered a set of skills I could use in any field of study, job, or endeavor I could possibly want to pursue. I was also able to minor in Politics, and I took a slew of history courses along the way.

What’s your favorite English class been so far?

I have loved all of them for different reasons. However, my favorite was Introduction to Literary Theory. In high school, lit theory was not on my radar. I was taught to close read novels and other texts in one way (formalism), and Introduction to Literary Theory rocked the foundation of all my previous knowledge and training. As a reader, I thought I had a broad understanding of my future field, but that was not the case. While every day in Lit Theory was a new breach unto my former education, it gave me the basis of critical thought and analysis I would bring to every class and text for the rest of my college career.

What activities are you involved in outside the classroom?

I have been involved with the YMCA since I was a camper in elementary school, and I haven’t been able to stay away since. In middle school, I was “voluntold” to join the California YMCA Model United Nations program, and later in high school I was active in the California YMCA Youth and Government Model Legislature and Court program. It was a life changing experience, and I decided that I wanted to help other middle school and high school kids get the same opportunity—so I volunteered. I interned for both programs as soon as I was old enough to qualify, and I eventually became an advisor for the same Youth and Government program. Every year, I am privileged to watch the same transformation in the students I work with: they gain confidence, find their voices, and learn how to work with and lead their peers.

On campus, I joined the knitting club (otherwise known as the Respectable Society of Fiber Arts) when a friend introduced me to knitting. I have been part of the club’s leadership for a couple of years; I enjoy learning new skills and the relaxed atmosphere, and I’ve turned most of my friends to knitting. We pretend to be productive and knit while binge watching Netflix.

How have you been spending your summers?

When I’m not busy volunteering for the YMCA, I’m working for the YMCA. My first summer home from WU, I was an Assistant Director for Day Camp at my local Y. As a staffer, you may not always have a lot to work with, but you learn to do amazing things with what you have. For a couple of years, I also volunteered as a camp counselor at one my favorite places in the world—Camp Fox, a beach camp on Catalina Island. I spent one week there every summer from the seventh to twelfth grade and came back as a counselor.

Do you have any insight/advice for current or prospective WU students (and especially English majors)?

You don’t have to limit your interests. Take classes that sound interesting or difficult just because you want to learn new things. And talk to your professors! Our English faculty are pretty awesome, they’ve been teaching for years, and they’ve been exactly where you are now. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn from and get to know them.