The Pursuit of Happiness

shapeimage_15I graduated from FSU in 2011 with a B.A. in Women’s Studies and Psychology. My supportive, albeit apprehensive parents repeatedly asked me what exactly I “plan to do with that degree?” In fact, most people who ask what I studied in college eventually follow up with the same question. You can imagine my shock after graduation when I discovered there wasn’t a tremendous demand for 23-year-old feminists with a lot of feelings in the professional world.

When I heard there was an LGBT Community Center in Lake Worth, I Googled it immediately. In November 2011, I interviewed for an internship with the Compass Youth Program and got it on the spot. On my way out of the building, I snapped the attached photo and shared President Obama’s message on my social networks; the message now greets me every morning when I walk through Compass’ doors.

In March, Compass hired me as the coordinator for the Peer Navigation Program, a peer-mentoring program for people living with HIV/AIDS. My work at Compass has been the most rewarding and unexpected experience of my life. If you told me a year ago that today alone, I’d be introducing a newly diagnosed HIV+ 19 year to his Peer Navigator to help him adjust to his new Positive life at noon; submitting an article for South Florida Gay News at 3 p.m.; and facilitating an LGBT Youth Group at 5 p.m., I would have responded with a raised eyebrow and an anxiety attack.

Some days I feel like I lost my mind on the morning commute, but at the end of every day, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be doing truly meaningful work, surrounded by people who are enormously passionate about what they do.

President Obama’s words ring true to me, now more than ever. “All are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.” My colleagues and I work tirelessly every day towards achieving Compass’ mission: “To diminish stereotypes by challenging longstanding misconceptions about the character of the LGBT community… by emboldening our youth, promoting pride in our community, and acting as an educator, advocate, health service provider, and focal point for community organizing.”

More than a year since college, people ask less about my degree and more often than not ask, “what exactly are you doing working in an LGBT community center?” As a straight ally, a feminist thinker, an equal rights activist, and an American, I am always confident in my response. I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, exactly where I’m supposed to be doing it. I come to work everyday knowing that, no matter how small my part, I’m making a difference. This is my pursuit of happiness. As we approach the upcoming presidential election, perhaps now is a good time to consider your own.

Ryanmarie Rice is the Peer Navigator Program Coordinator at Compass Gay & Lesbian Community Center. She can be reached at ryanmarie@compassglcc.com