The Classics Prepare Students for Law School and More

February 13, 2024
Ancient ruins in Greece
Makaila Hootman’s study abroad in Greece allowed her to visit several historic sites.

Think a classics major is a throwback to an earlier era, with little application in the modern world?

Think again, says classics and political science double major Makaila Hootman ’25.

Hootman came to Grinnell with a strong desire to go on to law school. As a 6-year-old, she was obsessed with Abraham Lincoln. “I’ve just always known that I wanted to be a lawyer,” Hootman says.

Why, then, is she studying the classics?

I’m actually interested in classics because I’m a pre-law student,” Hootman says. “The field of classics is so applicable to law school.” She took her first classics course with Professor Monessa Cummins, and it wasn’t long before Hootman decided to declare a double major in the classics and poli sci.

I’m actually interested in classics because I’m a pre-law student,” Hootman says. “The field of classics is so applicable to law school.

Makaila Hootman

She felt a strong connection with Cummins from the beginning. “I love her,” Hootman says. Cummins is now her adviser and she has helped Hootman adjust to the expectations for a college student at Grinnell.

“She’s given me the opportunity to build my skills, and she tells me when I’m not doing it well,” Hootman says. “She’ll let me know. But she also tells me when I’m doing it well, and she tells me what I need to do, and she keeps me on that track.”

Hootman also took two courses taught by Associate Professor Joseph Cummins that provided excellent preparation for law school: Ancient Philosophy (cross-listed in classics and philosophy) and Political Theory I (cross-listed in classics, philosophy, and political science). In addition, the courses of Angelo Mercado in linguistics and Dustin Dixon in mythology are effective preparation for law school because they challenge students to think analytically and to write effectively.

The language of the law is strongly connected to Latin, Hootman says. She recently took Constitutional Law and found that a Latin-derived word popped up in class almost every day. While her classmates puzzled over an unfamiliar word, Hootman could often say, “Well, I know what it means in Latin — I can deduce from that.”

A young woman admires classical Greek statuary.
Hootman admires ancient Greek statuary while studying abroad.

Beyond Latin, many other aspects of classical studies also carry over today — power structures, politics, philosophy, art, and more. Hootman says she has learned valuable lessons about crafting a strong argument — a particularly important skill for an attorney building an argument for a case.

“I’ve honestly already seen benefits,” Hootman says. “Especially in Constitutional Law.”

That doesn’t mean studying the classics is easy. It’s challenging, Hootman says, but Cummins helps her keep a positive attitude. “Anytime that I feel like, ‘Man, what I want to do with my life is great, but it’s hard,’ she puts it back into perspective.

“I think that’s why I really value our relationship,” Hootman says. “She’s a bit intimidating, but she’s intimidating because she knows that you have potential and she wants you to use that potential to the best of your ability.”

 She adds, “That’s going to make me a better student.”

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