Sonoma County teens face crossroads after high school graduation
Celine Hogan remembers thinking when she entered high school that the next four years would crawl by. So last Wednesday, as the Windsor High School senior found herself preparing to graduate in just a few days, she felt surprised to suddenly find herself at a major crossroads in her young life.
“It went by really fast,” she marveled after school that day. “It can be intimidating, everyone asking you what you want to do. I’m still figuring that out.”
The 17-year-old plans to enroll in Santa Rosa Junior College this summer or next fall. She says that will allow her time to choose the right career path while avoiding significant student loan debt.
Hogan is far from alone in weighing these sorts of life-changing decisions.
About 4,600 teens across Sonoma County are facing similar choices as they receive their diplomas over a two-week flurry of pomp and circumstance before fanning out around the state, country and world to craft their futures.
Graduation season began last Sunday, when Cardinal Newman High School handed out 157 diplomas. On Saturday night, about 400 students graduated from Windsor Unified School District. The bulk of graduation ceremonies will culminate next Friday, when the county’s largest districts - including Santa Rosa City Schools, Petaluma City Schools and Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified - hold their commencements.
After they walk off the stage, their shared journey of the last four years will split into several distinctly different directions.
If the past holds true, about 44 percent will enroll next fall in Santa Rosa Junior College, according to the most recent data available about the paths taken by local high school students. Ten percent will go straight to a California State University campus and 6 percent will be admitted to a University of California campus, based on tracking data for their immediate predecessors in the class of 2014.
The remaining 40 percent will take another route, many of them entering the workforce or the military or enrolling in private and out-of-state universities.
Roughly 12 percent of their fellow students didn’t make it to graduation, dropping out of local high schools, according to 2014 data from the state Department of Education.
Which path they choose will have ramifications for the rest of their lives.
An adult with a four-year bachelor’s degree who lives in Sonoma County earns a median income of just over $52,000 a year, compared to about $38,000 for those with a two-year associate’s degree and just $32,000 for those with high school diplomas, based on the most recent U.S. Census data.
Like many of the students headed for SRJC, Hogan says she chose the junior college because it will allow her to take a variety of classes and determine her strengths before settling on a major.
“I want to take time to make sure what I pursue is worthwhile,” she said. It doesn’t hurt that the junior college is a top-ranked institution with a great reputation, she added.
The Windsor resident talked about her future with a good deal of pragmatism but also a measure of idealism and enthusiasm. She plans to spend her summer narrowing in on potential majors, perhaps through job shadowing, in addition to working part-time. Her interests range from public health to social work to opening a small business.
“I know I’m good with people and I want to pursue something where I can be active in the community,” she said.
She’ll live with family so she doesn’t have to worry about the skyrocketing price of rent around the county. She plans to minor in business and eventually transfer to a four-year school.
Hogan struggles with a form of dyslexia and stays about two hours after school each day to complete the work necessary to keep up her grades. She said the extra effort has helped prepare her for her future.
“When I worked harder and asked for help, it boosted my self-esteem to know I could better myself,” she said. “I think I can look into the future knowing I’m very goal-oriented and whatever I set my mind to I can achieve.”
While many students are in Hogan’s shoes, still exploring the many options before them, others have known what they want to do for years.
Technology High Senior Alia Saloman, for instance, will be attending Chico State’s pre-veterinary program to pursue her dream of becoming a veterinarian, which she’s had since age six. And Piner High School senior Megan Poulsen will head to Sacramento State to major in biology with the goal of becoming a high school biology teacher, the kind that inspired her love of learning.
Poulsen said a freshman biology class first ignited her interest in that career. Subsequent classes with a favorite teacher have kept the flame alive.