William Merriman (C’19) showcases some of his favorite works. Photo by Mandy Moe Pwint Tu (C’21).
By Samuel Carter
William Merriman (C’19) walked to his internship supervisor’s office. He was working in San Francisco as part of the Carey Fellowship, an honors program that prepares business minors for careers in commerce. Throughout the internship, his English major had helped him communicate with coworkers and articulate his thoughts. Now, he was seeing it help again, as he was able to put his writing skills to use.
He eagerly entered the supervisor’s office to share a new marketing phrase that would invite investors to join Sonim’s partner community. He wrote that by investing in the company, members would be able to “create, collaborate, communicate.”
Merriman didn’t always plan on majoring in English. He entered Sewanee knowing he wanted to study business. He also wanted to major in one of the humanities to strengthen the track, but he wasn’t sure which one. As he took humanities courses that included History and Philosophy, English stood out.
C.S. Lewis once said that “in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.” Merriman cited this quotation when explaining his love for English. He articulated the way in which Lewis’ remark influences him because he feels that when you read, “you are transcending yourself and seeing through the eyes of the most brilliant men and women in history.”
“I always enjoyed the fun and adventure in every book, but English goes further in helping you think critically and analyze,” Merriman added.
He attributes much of his success in his college career to his English major. It helped him stand out in his internship and create a phrase that is still used by Sonim today. Its lessons in language and speaking helped him to forge a relationship with rhetoric and American studies professor Dr. O’Rourke and tutor fellow students in the Center for Speaking and Listening. It has also contributed to his ability to be a leader in Cru, a non-denominational religious community on campus where he serves as a teacher and mentor.
Merriman holds nothing but high praise for those working in the department, explaining his relationship with the faculty has been one of the best parts of his Sewanee experience. “They are experts who really care about teaching but care even more about the students in the class,” he remarked. He also loves the wide range of interests each professor brings, which gives a unique variety of material to study.
His favorite class that he has taken thus far at Sewanee is undoubtedly Dean Alex Bruce’s Special Topics: The Literatures of J.R.R. Tolkien. Offered in the fall of his junior year, the class explored the works of the renowned author of The Lord of the Rings while delving into the texts that inspired his imagination. Old English poetry, medieval works, and Norse mythologies and sagas brought the subject matter to life and gave Merriman a new understanding of what inspired Tolkien’s eventual Middle-Earth mythology.
However, it was not solely the content of the class that led Merriman to deem it his favorite. He attributes his love for the Tolkien class to Bruce’s passion and creativity as he taught the class, integrating the more conventional practices of lecture and discussion but also group exercises that emulated those of Tolkien and the Inklings called “pub groups” as well as lessons in linguistics and textual re-enactments.
He especially enjoyed “the excellent community of peers, comprised of students with a wide array of different majors and interests, that all intersected with a love for Tolkien.”
Merriman is still uncertain where his degree will lead after he graduates in three short months. His current goals include being part of a discipleship and outreach program in Oxford, England or back to work in his hometown of Memphis, TN.
Regardless, he holds confidence in his ability to rise to any challenge. He believes that the lessons he has learned through his own experiences combined with those learned through the eyes of others in literature will continue to help him understand human interaction, better relate to others, and find success in his career.