Rebecca Scholtz ’06

Classical Studies

Senior Attorney, Defending Vulnerable Populations Project, CLINIC

“Classics taught me how to think and analyze on a micro level—language structure and grammar—but also on the macro level, to develop arguments and theories.”

What have been your key milestones since graduating from Middlebury?

About a month after graduation I joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Costa Rica (on the Nicaraguan border) working with at-risk youth. This was definitely a milestone for me and a life-changing experience. It was the first time I had seen poverty up close. I saw how poverty and lack of immigration status worked together to prevent youth from accessing basic human rights, such as the right to an education. This experience motivated me to attend law school and pursue a career in public interest law.

After Peace Corps I went to Yale Law School. I focused on immigration law, spending most of my time in the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic.  After law school I clerked for a year for the Honorable Diana E. Murphy of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and then began a fellowship at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid. I chose to focus on noncitizen children in child welfare system with immigration needs. The fellowship led me into my current job as a staff attorney.

I love being a public interest lawyer and can’t see myself doing any other type of law. While the work is challenging and often exhausting, it’s also exciting and fulfilling. It motivates me to see how our efforts can help transform lives.

How has the classical studies major influenced your life after graduation?

In terms of career choices, being a classics major felt very liberating. I didn’t feel like there was a specific thing I was supposed to do, or that anything was off limits for me. As far as my understanding of the world, I think the Classics major has helped me to draw connections and see the universality of human nature. It has helped me to empathize, and to be thoughtful about where we’ve come from as human beings, and where we might be going. Studying the classics has also made me a more open-minded, curious, and imaginative person. 

How have the skills, knowledge or dispositions you learned as a classical studies major translated into your career?

The classics education I received at Middlebury has been great preparation for my career as a lawyer. For example, studying classics taught me how to think and analyze on a micro level—delving deep into words, grammar, and structure, and mastering the technical aspects of the language. But engaging with classical works also taught me to think on a macro level, to analyze and develop arguments and theories. This kind of study developed my creativity, curiosity, and ability to draw connections, to empathize, and to think broadly about the human experience. All of these things are immensely useful to me as a lawyer. In addition, I received excellent training in how to articulate my ideas through speech and writing, skills I use every day in my work.

I remember the first English class I taught as a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica. Having just emerged from four years of analyzing the grammatical structure of ancient Greek and Latin, I began my class (of adult community members, many of whom had never attended high school, and some of whom could not read or write in any language) talking about verb conjugations and the subjunctive. It soon dawned on me that this was not a Middlebury J-Term Greek class. After I adapted my teaching methods to my students’ backgrounds and needs, eventually my patient students learned some English. This was perhaps an example of a time when I needed to use macro level, rather than micro level, thinking.

When did you know you wanted to be a Classical Studies major?

I went to a small-town Iowa high school where Latin and Greek (and even history) were not offered. The summer after high school I spent time guiding canoe trips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on the Minnesota/Canada border. Since I didn’t have much contact with the outside world, my dad chose my first-year classes at Middlebury. He registered me for Augustus and the World of Rome with Professor Ganiban. something I would never have picked out myself at the time). I found the class fascinating and challenging, and it was the first experience I had discussing texts with classmates (which I found terrifying at first).

I then decided to take Beginning Greek my first J-Term. That class was the turning point. I loved it—three hours a day, every day, of rigorous academic study, with incredible professors, with a small group of classmates who became some of my dearest friends, immersed in the study of classical literature, history, philosophy, and culture. I never looked back. Every classical studies and classics course I took thereafter offered the same intellectual joy as that first J-Term class. 

Did you know what career path you wanted to pursue after graduating?

I had considered pursuing a graduate degree or PhD in classics, but I wasn’t sure it was the right path for me. I always wanted to do the Peace Corps after college. I think that allowed me to defer any big career decisions. During my time in Central America in the Peace Corps. I was able to gain clarity about my next career steps.

Finally, what advice or suggestions do you have for current classics majors as they consider their post-Middlebury futures?

Make the most of your academic opportunities at Middlebury. The joy of sharing in intellectual discovery with a small group of peers and brilliant, wonderful professors has been one of the most precious gifts of my life thus far. Don’t worry if you don’t have it all worked out when you graduate. If you’re not sure a career in academics is what you want to do, try different internships, volunteer opportunities, etc. If you make decisions based on what you find interesting, what you’re curious about, and/or what you’re passionate about, you’ll find your way more easily than if you make decisions based on what you think a Classics major is “supposed” to do. A degree in classics from Middlebury will set you up well for virtually any post-graduate path you embark on.

Learn More About the Classical Studies Department at Middlebury

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