College freshmen share new wisdom with East seniors

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In a school that is filled with tradition, Reverse College Day at Cranston High School East is one that has been taking place for more than 20 years.

It is a day when the newly-minted college freshman who seemingly just crossed the stage at PPAC on graduation day in June wake up early on the day before Thanksgiving and head back over to Cranston East one last time. There, they gather together in the Media Center, hugging peers they haven’t seen since the summertime and saying hello to the seniors who are sitting in the audience, where they sat just a year ago. They are there to pass along any wisdom they have gained since they have been in college. Whether they have stayed in state or ventured out of state, whether they are in a two-year or four-year school, a Community College or an Ivy League school, each has information to share. Some information is what they have learned, and some is what they wish they’d known a year ago. All of it is valuable.

This is the first year that mental health has been mentioned in the students’ five-minute presentations, and taking care of one’s mental health is stressed multiple times by multiple students as being something that is important to not take lightly. It is also the first year students are able to attend the Community College of Rhode Island for free for two years under the new Rhode Island Promise scholarship, and there are ten students enrolled there, many in conjunction with the Joint Admissions Agreement (JAA) program, which allows students who maintain a 3.0 or higher Grade Point Average (GPA) to transfer their 60 credits from CCRI to the University of Rhode Island or Rhode Island College at a discounted tuition rate once there.

Each year of the presentation, there are many familiar themes, from the food (it’s usually never good) to the bank accounts (they are draining quickly) to the scholarships (apply, apply, apply). This year was no different, and the 50 or so students who descended on East that morning had much to offer their peers.

“Don’t be afraid,” was one common message that appeared in the student presentations over and over again. “Don’t be afraid to step back if you’re not enjoying the major you thought you wanted,” said Isabel Rennick, who is currently an undeclared major at the University of Vermont. “I switched my major from pre-med and science, and right now I’m in between, but next semester I will probably try a Humanities-focused major instead. Don’t wait to make a change, it takes more time and more money if you do.”

Brooke Conneally, a student at URI agreed.

“Don’t shut your mind to something different,” she said. “I didn’t feel fulfilled at first, I felt like I was walking in someone else’s shoes as a Secondary Education and Biology major. Now I am going to switch to something like Journalism, Communications, or Public Relations which better utilizes my strengths.”

“Don’t be afraid to try something new,” said Joseph Murphy who is at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) for Electrical Engineering. “Join a new club, meet new people.”

For those seniors who worry if their high school education will prepare them fully enough, they needn’t worry, as long as they are putting in the time and effort while they’re there, according to the freshmen.

“I felt very prepared for college,” said Jake Palazzo, who is at the University of Mississippi, and many of his peers agreed.

Diversity was also a topic that came up again and again in this year’s presentations, with many of the students enjoying their widely diverse student body, and others wishing theirs were a bit more diverse.

“I love the different culture in the south,” said Palazzo. “It’s very different compared to up here.”

Taylor Sukys is at Baylor in Waco, Texas and she couldn’t agree more.

“I love how diverse my school is,” she said. “They make fun of my accent and laugh when I ask for the bubbler, and the Texans are die-hard crazy, especially when it comes to football.”

At Wheaton College in Massachusetts, Annabelle Neville is one who wishes that her student body was a bit more ethnically diverse, but she’s been meeting people from other states who have different backgrounds, which she has enjoyed.

Several students wished they’d taken a bit more time to learn more about some of the offerings that existed at their colleges. Some were pleased with what they found when they got there, while others were a bit taken aback.

“I don’t like how religious my school is,” said Sukys. “Chapel is required and I have to take religion classes. At home I wasn’t very religious.”

At Lesley University in Massachusetts, Julia Fagundes was pleased to find out that she could take advantage of enrolling in a dual degree program, which she didn’t know existed when she arrived at school. She will now be able to finish both her Bachelor’s and her Master’s degrees in five years, saving a good amount of money in the process.

Participating in sports when given the opportunity was another common theme.

“I am on the track team and I like my teammates,” said Molly Botts, a Textiles and Fashion Merchandising major at the University of Rhode Island.

Fagundes agreed, and runs cross country at Lesley.

“College is your last chance to compete in sports as a team,” she said.

Applying to your reach schools and exploring some of the more unusual school options was something that came up several times this year.

“If you’d asked me a year ago if I’d be at BC, I would’ve said ‘No, I’ll never get it in,’” said Katerina Stepalavich. “It was my reach school. A month ago, I hated it but now I love it, and East prepared me well.”

At the College of New Jersey, art education major Megan Scarborough agrees.

“My college is 93 percent New Jersey residents and only seven percent out-of-state, but I love it and I wouldn’t have chosen it if it wasn’t right for me. My classes are challenging, in a good way and I’ve been able to delve deeper into many things I am interested in.”

A unique curriculum might just be the right fit for you, said 2017 valedictorian, Miya Lohmeier who is enjoying Brown University.

“Brown has an open curriculum so there are no course requirements and you get to try out the classes first to see if you like them,” she said. “If I could give any advice, I’d say that if your school offers a pre-orientation program before school starts, take advantage of that because you will get to know a lot of people before school has begun.”

However, if things aren’t right once you’re there, don’t be afraid to consider starting fresh and transferring to a different school, says Amelia Lavallee, who is currently at URI.

“I settled for an in-state school and I really wanted to go out of state. I wanted a huge school. I haven’t gotten involved, I live off-campus in an apartment and I am thinking of transferring. If you don’t like it, don’t stay. There are plenty of programs who offer in-state tuition.”

No matter what, it’s important that students remember to do what is best for them and their future, and that is a point that Shantel Orellana wanted to be sure to emphasize. As someone who is taking advantage of the CCRI Promise Scholarship and the JAA program, she has had to rise above the common perception of a community college and keep in mind that she has made a solid decision for her future.

“Think big picture. Think long term,” she said. “At the end of high school these loans will follow me, so for me this is a good opportunity. Don’t make your decisions for the here and now only. Don’t let the reaction of others bother you. Don’t listen when they say, ‘Oh, well that’s okay,’ when you tell them you’re going to CCRI. That takes a toll on you and your mental health every day. This is your future, don’t let that cloud it.”

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