A Paper or Plastic World: Beauty After Graduation

by Alexander Daley
Far Western Student Representative, 2012-2013
Alpha Eta Gamma Chapter
California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, CA

When I graduate next June, my changed perception of the world may be the greatest gift my English degree ever gave me. I can give no better example of my newfound awareness of the world, than to relate it to my last job.

I worked as a Courtesy Clerk for a local market. A Courtesy Clerk is the person who asks a customer “Paper or Plastic?” and then proceeds to bag their groceries. A grocery store is a decent place to work, especially for English majors. You end up coming home after a shift with lots of stories about interesting customers. To some, clerking at a supermarket does not sound like the ideal “payoff” after four years of rigorous English coursework at a university. How will Shakespeare help me with bagging groceries? But I make the case that it was because of my English major that I found working at a market suited me very well. During an eight hour shift, you can think about a number of things, but what I liked to ask myself the most was: What is beautiful?

If you think about it, beauty can be found in every corner of a supermarket if you have the eyes to see it. The perception that my English major has given me came in handy in the course of every shift.

During the summer, pretty women wearing their beach attire walked through the store. They were beautiful.

The Produce Department smelled of ripe strawberries, and every apple was aligned in a perfect row. The Meat Department displayed a wall of freshly ground beef, calling to each customer, as if waiting to be put on the nearest grill. The Floral Department was lush with fresh flowers, looking for a new home. They were all beautiful.

In the summer, pretty women in their beach attire stood in my line looking like the ancient Greek goddesses. They were beautiful.

Then there were my coworkers. We came from all walks of life: two of my coworkers were Marines, one of my coworkers came from Native American lineage with hopes to work in the film industry. Because of my English major, I saw their hopes and aspirations, and I saw beauty.

In the summer, I asked pretty women in their beach attire, “paper or plastic?”…They were beautiful.

What is beauty? Beauty is in every ripe strawberry. Beauty is in the freshly cut flower. Beauty is in the skin of pretty women who wander the store in their beach attire. Then there was I:  a soon-to-be graduate with an English degree, and I see beauty in that too. A Courtesy Clerk asks a customer if they would prefer paper or plastic because it is part of their job description. I, on the other hand, asked a pretty woman if she preferred paper or plastic because I was grateful for their presence, making the day all the more beautiful. Then the words, “paper or plastic?” took on a beauty of their own. The language transformed because of who spoke and who was spoken to.

In the end, the bigger payoff to having an English degree is the perception of beauty in all things, even in a supermarket. Would a Engineering major see it? Would a Business major see it? I cannot speak for them. What I can say is that my English degree has given me a new pair of eyes so that, wherever I am, I see beauty; and for that I am grateful.

Comments

A Paper or Plastic World: Beauty After Graduation — 2 Comments

  1. This was very insightful post!

    I have to strongly agree that sometimes what we learn as students of literature spills over into our own personal lives.
    For myself, it’s helped me think of my own life’s story and the story of other people I meet in metaphorical and symbolic ways.

    Noticing these things in my own story and other people’s story imbues them with meaning.

    Keep on writing!