COLUMN: Open (house) season

A free $50 lunch with a side of criticism

News Editor Lauren Rice

June is just around the corner and 'tis the season -- not for any federal holiday, but for graduation. When I graduated high school around this time last year, what I had been planning for longest was my open house. 

Guest lists were written, invitations sent out, centerpieces made, and suddenly I was glad I’m not going into event planning. This is no planning guide, because I am no expert, but a heads-up about the part of my open house that I hadn’t prepared for: the judgment. 

Along with anything else, a traditional high school graduation open house is a strange conglomeration of loved ones with varying degrees of closeness. Because all of these different people from different parts of life are all coming together, they also had their own opinions of my future plans (and some didn’t hesitate to share them with me). 

To their credit, most of the people at my open house were encouraging. They recognized that the media these days gets a bad rap because it’s such a mixed bag of news for the sake of entertainment and vice versa.

Those people wished me the best. Others, I think, were nervous for me. Of course, that didn’t manifest as asking meaningful questions, but rather statements and questions along the lines of:

  • Are you sure?
  • That sounds dangerous!
  • Can’t trust the news these days.
  • Why? 
  • Not hoping to make much money, are you?

At first, I was really concerned about this (I was also glad no one talked to me long enough to find out that I want to report on location from international areas of conflict). But the more I think about it, the more ridiculous the whole thing was. 

No matter what field I decided to pursue, there still would have been questioning and a bit of judgment -- and not just at the open house. Once I was directly asked at a funeral why I was not a woman in STEM. I was already in the fourth grade after all. 

Last week I was at a garage sale where a customer was making small talk and asked what I study at CMU. So I told her, journalism and political science. Her eyes widened and she said, “oh boy; that’s all I have to say about that.” 

She left quickly, without buying anything. 

Some of the expectations are ridiculous en masse. I was to pick a major that makes the world a better place, makes lots of money, balances gender representation in a field and, if there’s time, make myself happy. 

The bottom line, at least for me, is that I know myself and my skills better than my Dad’s fourth cousin, twice removed, right? It’s easy for people to pass judgment, but harder to avoid taking it to heart.

Over the last academic year, when I was studying or working into the wee hours of the morning, what motivated me was the knowledge that I’m doing what I care about. I can guarantee that I would not have been as successful if I was pursuing what someone else wanted for me. 

My other plan, if I hadn’t attended CMU, was to study astrophysics at the University of Chicago. People are always surprised when I tell them that, probably because they see how happy and successful I am here. 

At least for me, it’s difficult to be successful when the motivation comes from someone else. I’m doing well because I chose this path for myself. 

My advice for graduates (and anyone still choosing their path): Maybe it feels like open season for relatives to make their comments, but your happiness and success is what will make the world a better place. A lot of them you won’t see after the party anyway, or as I like to call it, a free $50 lunch.