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Photo credit: Kristín Black

My Major is Not My Career: Dontae Rayford

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Photo credit: Kristín Black


15 years ago, I walked into PoliSci 101 as a bright-eyed freshman.  I'd major in Political Science and then take a year off to work in politics while studying for the LSAT. Then I'd go to some awesome law school before beginning a high-powered career as a litigator before transitioning into civil rights work after making my mark. 

All of this was in sight as I sat there for an hour looking around the room at what appeared to be a non-trivial number of upperclassmen. And when I wasn't feeling anxious about being an imposter around these older students, I was trying to make meaning of all of the new concepts that Professor Krasner was sharing with the class. I felt a bit overwhelmed, but as the lecture wound to a close, I knew that this would be my rite of passage and that I was indeed up to challenge.

Right before breaking, the professor chimed in while the noise of students gathering their belongings filled the room. In a very rough paraphrase, he said, "I apologize for not mentioning this sooner, but I would highly discourage freshmen from taking this class...."

We plan and God laughs.

I whipped out the Stanford course catalog and began frantically searching for other 101s that might be welcoming of those as green as me. Before long, I settled on Sociology 101. I attended the class' first lecture and instantly knew that my Stanford journey was going to change. I went on to major in Soc and I even got a Master's through the co-term program. 

I loved studying Sociology. I loved the dissection of group dynamics in both political and non-political contexts. I loved the professors and more than anything else I loved my advisor, Professor Rebecca Sandefur - who, by the way, is an actual genius. My major completely shaped and re-shaped my understanding of the world that I live in.

Nonetheless, although I loved my major I also knew that I had no intention of becoming a Sociologist. So as I left Stanford and jostled with the prospects of working in policy, sticking with my plans of being a lawyer, or do something completely different (which is what I ultimately chose), I was never disillusioned about what my major meant to me in terms of career. It would not define my career, it would instead be an asset in whatever career I chose.

Today, I work as a business development professional for a technology company. And in over 10 years of professional experience, I can confidently say that I've never walked into the office and found an opportunity to wax poetic about sociological concepts that I studied. However, I do have my major to thank for teaching me how to think, how to make meaning and how to apply abstract concepts to real world scenarios.

And while it sounds superbly cliché, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing!

Dontae Rayford

Class of 2007


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