Graduation changes everything. With the flip of a tassel and the toss of a mortarboard, students cross over into the great unknown.
We asked 10 local high school, college and graduate students, all of whom will be graduating this spring, to reflect on their studies in Sarasota, what their lives look like now and what they expect from the future. The first thing we realized is that our local schools turn out an exceptional variety of graduates. Among our subjects are an athlete who’s also an academic star, a beauty queen med student, a community-minded jazz percussionist and an aspiring Air Force officer. They shared with us everything from their preferred mode of communication (texting is king) to their philosophical differences with their parents—as well as their peers. Find out in their own words what makes them tick—and what makes them twitch—as they prepare for the next chapter of their lives.
ANDREA APPLE, 23, medical student, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, Bradenton From: St. Petersburg, Fla. Undergrad: Eckerd College. What might surprise others: I’m the reigning Miss Dade City’s Kumquat Festival. Next up: Osteopathic emergency medicine residency, hopefully at Mount Sinai in Miami Beach. Pageants and medical school: In pageants, you have to be confident, and you have to present yourself in a very intellectual, kind way. That’s similar in medicine: You have to show the patient your confidence and that you’re competent. Granted, we don’t do swimsuits at school. Immediate concerns: My residency. You go to bed one night as a fourth-year med student, and you wake up as a doctor. In those 24 hours, the expectations change completely. Staying informed: I like Fox News. I’ve gotten into Glenn Beck recently, and I listen to Rush [Limbaugh] and Sean Hannity. I’m pretty conservative, as you can tell, but I try to read all sides. And I like watching the Disney Channel—they’ve got some fun shows, and it’s clean. I don’t like dirty TV. My generation: There are those who are really passionate, and the other half are really apathetic. But as more major issues are brought to the foreground—war and healthcare and the economy—more of my generation [will] realize that they need to be involved because these issues are starting to affect them personally.
ALICE ABERNATHY, 21, biochemistry student, New College of Florida
From: Naples, Fla. Next up: Applied for a Fulbright Grant to the Center for Astrobiology in Madrid, Spain. I worry about: People who [can’t] think about information critically and just [accept] information that came from the news or their parents. Staying informed: I read Astrobiology magazine and The New York Times online. I listen to podcasts—Radiolab and This American Life. New College taught me: To explore different avenues. I thought I might study literature, and I wound up doing molecular biology. I was able to develop my intellectual independence. How I stay in touch: I mostly e-mail. I text a little—I originally started texting because my mom started to text. Free time: I was working as a sailing instructor, but now I spend my time on the weekends writing my thesis. We don’t have TV at New College, but I do manage to squeeze in some sci-fi, most recently Battlestar Galactica. Life-changing Sarasota experience: I worked in Genesis Health Clinic on U.S. 301 up until my fourth year. I had access to a whole other community that I wasn’t seeing at school. It cultivated a need to give back. In 10 years: I see myself on the one hand getting my master’s in public health, and [doing] health outreach and travel. On the other hand, I could keep doing research and get my Ph.D. and end up teaching. Ideally, either way I would end up in academia.
JOHN VILLOTTI, 18, cadet lieutenant colonel, Sarasota Military Academy
From: Sarasota. Next up: The U.S. Air Force Academy or Naval Academy. Career goals: Air Force pilot or Naval aviator. When I was four I saw the Blue Angels and thought, this is what I want to do. Now I have over 80 hours in the cockpit. Sarasota Military Academy has taught me: Leadership, especially through ROTC, being in charge of other cadets. They’ve given me as many opportunities as they could to make me stand out so I can get into the schools I’m interested in. Drugs and alcohol: It’s definitely a big problem in Sarasota—as it is everywhere, I’m sure. I disagree with it beyond belief; I avoid the stuff as much as I can. Hobbies: I started skydiving this summer. It’s like SheiKra at Busch Gardens—the 200-foot drop—except you’re not in a car, and you’re free-falling for a really long time. It feels like you’re sitting in a pool, except with a lot of wind. I worry about: where our country’s going economically. I try to keep up with Obama’s stimulus package. I used to watch cartoons; now I come home and watch the news. Community service: I’ve volunteered with Mote and All Faiths Food Bank, and the Boys and Girls Club youth lacrosse program was a big deal to me. The community has done so much for me. I always felt that if they give me something, I want to give twice as much back.
CRYSTAL WILSON, 19, associate degree student, State College of Florida
From: Sarasota. Next up: Hoping to study mass communication at a university. Current job: Intern at Bradenton’s Central Community Redevelopment Agency. Immediate concerns: I don’t know how I’m going to get to a university, because I just ran into financial problems. If I can just get there, I’m pretty sure I can work it out. My future in Sarasota: I want to come back to Southwest Florida to start a crisis building for kids that’s open 24/7. I was one of those kids—I wasn’t necessarily troubled, but I always wanted somebody to talk to. My parents: I’m gay, and they’re straight, obviously. They argue with me using the Bible. [I think] when they get to a certain age, people should be able to do as they please. Free time: My friends and I go to the movies, the mall—pretty much any place they want to go, because they have the car and I don’t. How I stay in touch: Mostly it’s text messaging. Sometimes when you’re angry, or someone’s angry at you, you can still feel the aggression in a text, but you don’t have to hear it. Drugs in my generation: I don’t drink or do drugs, so I don’t really know. I don’t ask. In 10 years: I’ll probably still be in school. I plan to have my own advertising company by then. And I’d like to have started a free breakfast program for kids. I was raised by my great-grandmother, and she didn’t like to see people hungry.
ALEXANDRA GARCIA, 18, International Baccalaureate (IB) student, Riverview High School
From: Sarasota. Next up: College, possibly Georgetown or University of Florida. Sarasota shaped me: with its emphasis on the arts. I’ve got an Asolo Rep student pass; I took acting classes at FST. Now the arts are something I look for in other cities. I worry about: The environment. What’s it going to be like in 50 years? I’m going to be here for a while, hopefully, and I wonder how it’s going to affect me. Keeping in touch: Text messages. I can’t remember the last time I talked on the phone. Free time: My friends and I have a “bucket list” of things we want to do before we leave Sarasota: ride the SCAT bus, go to the drum circle on Siesta Key beach—things you can only do in Sarasota. Hot topics: My friends and I got in a really heated debate—like, screaming—about gay marriage and gays adopting children. We’re all pretty similar politically, but that’s an issue that comes up a lot. Drugs and alcohol: We like to say that Riverview’s third floor [where IB classes are] is clean, but on the second floor, the bathrooms smell like smoke. Drugs are definitely out there, but I’m not at all connected to it. A future in Sarasota? Never say never, but probably not. The world’s too big to live in one place your whole life. In 10 years: I’ll hopefully be working as a journalist at a big newspaper or magazine in a major city.
DWIGHT POWELL, 18, 6’10” basketball player, Pendleton High School at IMG Academies, Bradenton
From: Toronto, Ontario.
Next up: Playing basketball for Stanford University (major undecided). My day: School starts at 7:30 a.m. We get done about 12:30, then lunch. At 1:30 we’re in the weight room for an hour, then on the court with the team until around 4:30 or 5-ish. After that, sometimes we have a scrimmage with the post-grad team. IMG taught me: to focus more on everything I do. The schedule forces you to think about time management. They don’t baby us. It’s on me if I’m not prepared for the future. Free time: There’s a lot of sleeping. Free time is kind of not real—there’s always something you could be doing. Listening to: Hip hop and R&B. I just got the new Lil’ Wayne mixtape. Staying informed: I don’t have time to keep up with the news. If something big happens, I’ll hear about it. But other than that, they keep us pretty busy. Drugs: Inside IMG I haven’t seen any. Outside, drugs are easily accessible. Here, the ratio of staff to students is in their favor. If someone’s having a problem, they can intervene before it gets bad.
In 10 years: I’m hopefully either in the NBA or retired from the NBA and pursuing a career. Immediate concerns: No concerns; just goals. For right now, my future is tomorrow. I’m trying to get this day done as well as I can.
ZACHARY MORRISON, 17, “Most likely to succeed,” Pine View School From: Sarasota.
Next up: I early decisioned to Brown University. Also applied to Vassar and Amherst, among others. Career goals: I’m mixed between getting my M.B.A. and studying political science. David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, is my role model. I’d love to do something like that. But I’d also want to enter politics myself, and you can’t do that unless you’re wealthy, so I’d have to be successful in business first. I worry about: Finding a job. It was on the news that 40 percent of graduates in 2009 couldn’t get a job. Hopefully I go to graduate school, so in eight years, I hope the economy has improved by then. Race in Sarasota: This is one of the most segregated areas. Pine View only has one African-American student. He won “most unique” in our Senior Notables. Pine View athletics: We don’t have any high school sports, but I get to run a bunch of goofy athletic clubs like Ping Pong Club and Flag Football Club. My parents: We’re Jewish, but I’m not religious. My mom especially is still religious, so I’ve sort of broken away from them in that regard. Drug and alcohol use: People talk about it—a lot of my friends are for decriminalizing marijuana. Staying informed: I have an iPhone application for the Associated Press. It texts me when anything new happens.
MAUREIK ROBISON, 17, jazz percussionist, Booker High School Visual and Performing Arts Program
From: Sarasota. Next up: College, studying music. I don’t have a top choice. I’ve applied to eight schools, so you could say I have a top eight. Listening to: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, a lot of Björk and Radiohead, Imogen Heap. Booker VPA taught me: the maturity to play jazz, to feel it. A lot of kids my age, they’re not playing the music; they’re just playing the notes on the sheet. Also, they start you in college music theory your freshman year—I’ll have eight semesters of college theory when I graduate. Staying informed: I like getting up in the morning and flipping through the newspaper. It’s better than watching TV or clicking a mouse. Community service: I have a quartet that goes to retirement homes and performs a two-hour show one Saturday a month. I like seeing how appreciative they are. Jazz is all about experience; to play in front of people is priceless. Looking ahead: [After] my undergraduate studies, I’ve been talking to my parents about going to Brazil and studying music there. I’m interested in the bossa nova, artists like Antonio Carlos Jobim. A future in Sarasota? I’d like to live in Europe, but if I come back here, I’d like to start a group called YAN—the “Youth Artists’ Network”—to bring young musicians and other artists together, because I’ve had trouble finding venues to showcase what I’ve learned at Booker.
PHILIP BURKE, 30, hospitality management major, University of South Florida School of Hotel and Restaurant Management
From: Toledo, Ohio. Next up: Law school, probably in Miami. Current job: Bartender, Ritz-Carlton Members Beach Club. Career goal: On-staff attorney, The Ritz-Carlton. Immediate concerns: Financing my schooling. I have friends who’ve come out the other end with massive debt loads. The jobs available are not quite at the pay level they were five years ago. I’m really going to be influenced by where the jobs are. Morning routine: The home page on my Internet is CNN.com, then I check the Sarasota Herald-Tribune Web site, then my hometown newspaper. As a bartender, I need to know what’s going on. People will just walk up off the beach and say, “How’s the market looking?” Keeping in touch: We use Facebook to talk about school projects and homework. It’s easier to get hold of my classmates on Facebook than to try to call. Drugs: When I was in high school in Ohio, the rough kids were drinking. Now it’s marijuana—people talk about it in class, even. And we’re not too far off from cocaine and stuff like that. Television: The Daily Show is required viewing—I DVR that every night. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The Office are the other big ones. A future in Sarasota? I’ll probably end up in Miami or Orlando for my first job—those places have such a variety as far as hospitality goes. But I like it here; this is a place where you could raise a family.
YEZI XUE, 23, computer animation major, Ringling College of Art and Design
From: Shakopee, Minn. Before then, my family lived in China until I was 10. Next up: Find a job. I’d like to have that big studio experience—like Disney, Pixar or Dreamworks. Immediate concerns: I’m scared! After high school, you just go to college. But now I actually have to make a living. I don’t want to be a starving artist, but I do want to make art. Senior thesis: Every senior makes a two-minute short film. My story is about cloudmakers that live in the sky. The grandfather cloudmaker is teaching the grandson how to make clouds. Ringling taught me: To handle stress and manage time better. Ringling is very, very intense. The workload is huge. A lot is expected out of you. I’m a stronger person now. My parents: It’s important for them to know that I can support myself. What’s more important to me is that I enjoy what I do. How I stay in touch: When I have time, my friends and I go online and do video chat. When you call somebody, you have to have a purpose. Video chatting is more like hanging out. Recreational reading: I’m a big fan of people’s blogs, especially current and former Ringling students and other people in the animation industry. A future in Sarasota? Unfortunately, most of the animation industry is located in California.
I don’t know exactly where I’ll be, but I’m leaning towards California.