Family Affair

Catherine Flaherty '22

As the third generation of Gauchos in her family, Catherine Flaherty ’22 blazes a path all her own.

When Catherine Flaherty first stepped into Harold Frank Hall for a freshman class this year, she must have known she was on hallowed ground. This was, after all, the place where her parents, Kirsten Naegele Flaherty ’92 and Thomas Flaherty ’91 first met for a sociology class in the spring of 1990.

According to Catherine, “They randomly sat next to each other and started a conversation before class began. After class they’d walk to the bike rack and talk before heading back into Isla Vista. Their first date was Chinese takeout at Sea Lookout Park on Del Playa. It eventually led to lunch dates at Sam’s To Go and drinks at McBurley’s at night where my dad was a cook. Even though my dad finished classes before my mom, he still waited to walk across the stage with her at commencement. They married 5 years later in Santa Barbara at The Biltmore.”

Thomas, who majored in sociology, and Kirsten, a double-major in political science and sociology, both became project managers and raised Catherine and her younger brother and sister in Sonoma, California. 

The family’s Gaucho roots extend to Kirsten’s father, who attended UCSB for several years, and Catherine’s aunt and uncle who are graduates. For Catherine, such strong family ties initially created a certain ambivalence. “I think that because UCSB was so ingrained in my family, I found myself wanting to branch out and find my own school with my own experiences.”

Yet she also saw what the experience did for her parents. “They reflect back on the years at UCSB with great pride and appreciation for their education, experience and friendships made during their time here. Many of their closest friends today are ones they met freshman year in the dorms.”

Ultimately, she says, “I weighed my college options and knew I would be most happy and fulfilled at UC Santa Barbara.”

Like your mother, you are a double major.
I entered UCSB undecided so that I could explore a variety of classes and find what I am most passionate about learning. Through experiencing various economics, sociology, and philosophy classes, I have decided to pursue a major in Political Science, with a minor in Professional Writing and certificate from the Technology Management Program.
 

When you were considering where to go to college yourself, how did the legacy factor impact your decision? Did you ever feel there was a certain expectation, either said or unsaid, that you would at least consider UCSB because of your family? Was there any feeling of not wanting to "break the chain"?

When I was in elementary school, I told my 4th grade teacher that “When I grow up, I am going to go to UCSB just like my parents.” Of course, as a kid, it’s easy to want to follow what your parents do, because it’s all that you know. Starting my own college search in high school, however, I was always careful in allowing myself a wide range of options. I feel extremely grateful in that I was in no way pressured by any of my family members into looking into or attending UCSB. They understood that I would eventually find a university that best fit my own intellectual and personal needs, and I was very much in control of my future. I have always been very independent towards my education, and I worked tirelessly in high school in order to ensure that my range of options was as wide as possible. My parent’s relationship with me is very open, honest and supportive, and we all agreed that I wouldn’t make any rash decisions about a school until I got all my acceptance letters back and could properly assess my options. Although they wouldn’t have pressured me into attending UC Santa Barbara, I always knew that I would apply — and I really wanted to. I think that this story would be much less interesting had I caved into any multi-generational pressure to not “break the chain.” It’s powerful that I am a third generation because it is simply how the cards fell; I weighed my college options and knew in my heart I would be the most happy and fulfilled at UC Santa Barbara. Receiving my acceptance and signing my Letter of Intent made me proud to know that I was not only going to carry on the Gaucho legacy, but it is where I was meant to be. 

How did you freshman year go? 

Overall, freshman year was everything I was expecting and more. I was extremely thankful that the transition to college was smooth — I felt prepared academically due to the schools my parents sent me to, and socially I got really lucky with my dorm. Everyone living around me in Santa Rosa Hall was incredibly welcoming and there was always someone you could hang out with. I wasn’t expecting to make such close friends so fast — my two best friends lived right across the hall from me! I was always told that you can make a big school seem small, but you can’t make a small school seem big. I knew that UCSB had a big undergraduate population, so going into freshman year I was unsure of how strong the sense of community would feel. Even within the first few weeks, I could tell that UCSB was going to surprise me. I think that because all the students live so close to campus, and because everyone is so genuinely happy, a strong sense of community is evident and I felt more welcomed than what I was expecting. I’m fortunate to find classes and a major that I am passionate about, and I even love the Gen Ed requirements that encourage me to study fields I wouldn’t look at otherwise. Getting involved with Associated Students, Hall Council, Campus United, Alpha Chi Omega, and other campus organizations transformed my college experience into something I am already so thankful for and proud of. I can’t wait to live in Isla Vista next year, and I can only imagine what’s to come these next three years! 

It's obviously difficult to anticipate but how do you think you would advise your daughter or son when they were looking into college? Would you want their legacy to impact their decision-making process? 

I say this in most every situation, but I would parent just as my parents did for me. My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic from a very early age, so I always felt compelled to succeed, not just for them, but for myself. This work ethic allowed me freedom within my education. They trusted that I always completed my work to the best of my ability because I never gave them reason to think otherwise. Because of this, I was allowed the freedom to research any university I was interested in and, with their encouragement, able to apply to a large range of possibilities. My college list had big schools, small schools, research schools, liberal arts schools, and everything in between. I want my child to be allowed the same. I would advise them to build up their work ethic early on so that their range of opportunities is as wide as possible. I don’t want my legacy status, or anyone else’s to impact the decisions they know are best for them. Additionally, as a parent, I’m hoping I would be able to envision which environment would work best for them, so I can help guide them in a thoughtful and supportive manner. At the end of the day, it’s their own education that they are responsible for, and I want to ensure that they are at a university that can meet their academic and personal needs.