An Open Letter to the Pigeon

BY ANDREA SAENZ

To the person who wrote last week’s editorial, “Being the Braver Pigeon: To OCI or Not OCI”:

Your editorial broke my heart. It was incredibly hard to read. I kept thinking of friends of mine you might be. And this is coming from a person who has been telling people that your story is the story of elite law schools for a whole year; that while plenty of students find fulfillment at firms small and large, there are dozens, maybe even hundreds who end up shelving their government or public interest dreams for the job security and sky-high salaries of large law firms that they already know they won’t like. That won’t make them happy. But there was always the thought that I was just being self-righteous and projecting. Maybe everyone really did think they might like firm work. Reading your editorial was a reminder that the story, at least for some people, is true. And I wish it weren’t. (Of course, this doesn’t mean I’m not self-righteous. Just not totally out of touch.)

I won’t repeat my rants from my past Record editorials – they’re online in all their Google-able glory. I only wanted to tell you, and others in your position, two things. One is that it’s not too late to do what you came to law school to do. Other people might tell you to “keep your options open” forever and ever – bad advice that’s impossible to keep anyway. I’m telling you that by the time you read this, you’ll be locked into your Week 1 interviews, but you can get online later and cancel every single one of your Week 2 and 3 interviews that is with an employer who bores you. You can turn down any callbacks you get, and apply only for the jobs that really call to you; the ones you can barely choose between, because they’re so great. I’m serious. You can just cancel them. I think you’re strong enough to do it. I can guarantee you 100% that in the middle of your summer job, you’ll look back and be glad.

The second is to mention one of the ways humans are different than pigeons (besides more restrained bathroom habits): We can build support networks, and take care of each other whether we’re related or not. I’m glad you’ve talked to advisors and your friends. Maybe that’s enough. For me, it wasn’t – I spent the summer obsessively collecting the names of people who were forging ahead with the plan to do the public interest work they really wanted, so I could cling to them when the year got hard. (Meaning, now.)

It’s more people than you think – it’s maybe 5% of the class that doesn’t participate in OCI at all, but that’s a good two dozen people some years, and there are many more who work for an OCI-sponsored government agency, or who split between a firm and a public interest organization. One of those options may work well for you. And OPIA and SPIN have lists of people who chose and are choosing to do the public interest work that called to them – talking to some may help. Don’t just ask people for open-ended advice: tell your friends and family what you really want to do, and then ask them for support in making it happen. They’ll be there. You are right to think that you shouldn’t wait to make the contribution you’re here to make – and don’t forget, Harvard will help pay those loans off anyway.

Don’t give up on wanting to save the world, please. Don’t even put it off three or five years. We’d like to hear back from you sometime, and see what became of you. Your story isn’t only yours. Best of luck.

Andrea Saenz, Managing Editor, is happiest when (a) good people get the things they most want and (b) wine is on sale. She invites anyone to email her at asaenz@law.harvard.edu.

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