The useless degree

It was dark at the back of the room. Row upon row of heads were in front of me, faces turned towards the light, the sound, the colour. No one noticed me slip into a seat at the end of a row on the balcony, and sink down, pulling my hoodie up over my chin. 


I had that sick-excited feeling, as if I’d tried to swallow a handful of butterflies but they were still alive and flapping inside my rib cage. Could we really do this Jesus? Could I really get up in front of all these people and say something worth hearing?


I’m one of the thousands of students who did an “arts degree” at uni. Mine was called ‘Writing, Directing and Performance’ which was basically English and Drama across media, and it would be fair to say that I hadn’t really expected to overtly use my qualification in the long run. A degree is a degree right, so maybe it didn’t matter what I had been studying for three years, as it was more about “the uni experience” really... 

Applause. Music. A thousand people stand to sing. 

Back to reality and the gravity of the situation kicks in. I’m sat at the back of the main meeting room of Youthwork the Conference and in thirty-six hours I have to do the Sunday morning speaking slot. And I’ve never preached to more than a couple of hundred people before, let alone to a thousand youth leaders. 


Where is your degree now Miriam? Where’s Shakespeare and Pinter when you need them? What happens to italian neorealist cinema, Hollywood and all those well-structured essays when you’re sat at the back of an auditorium feeling totally out of your depth?

An auditorium.

The penny dropped as God no doubt looked on and smiled. She’d got there. 

The words “you were trained for this Miriam” whispered through my head as I looked at the large stage that was the speaking platform for the conference. “You know the space, you have been trained for this” came the words again as I looked around the room of the theatre I was hiding at the back of. 

A theatre. 

The butterflies lay still in my stomach. I sat up in my chair and breathed-in the atmosphere of hope and joy. I was made for this. The memories of youth theatre from the age of seven raced through my mind. Suddenly my degree, which had been brilliant fun and a maturing, challenging experience, now fell into place as a qualification on communication. University had prepared me for the biggest talk of my life so far and I’d just realised it.

It is almost exactly a year to the day since this moment happened. I want to encourage any student reading this who is currently wondering why they are studying their subject. For anyone who is thinking their degree isn’t going to be relevant for “the real world”, anyone thinking university is about the life experience not the academic experience... expect more from God. 

Ephesians 2: 10 says this:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

I do not know how God will make your degree relevant and significant in your journey after uni. But I do not believe that what we study is an after-thought or a by-product, because I live in the testimony of it being the opposite. When I got up on a theatre stage to speak about Jesus to a thousand people, the reality of God creating me specifically and preparing me for good works he had planned all along, changed my life. I wonder how your story will unravel and how today’s essay will become relevant for tomorrow’s adventure?

Keep going.

Miriam Swanson

Global Student Mission Leader

Miriam helps equip the church for student mission internationally. She's based in the USA and hungry to see young adults follow Jesus with all of who they are. 

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