NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

June 18, 2013

Why not me, why not now

As I See It
Kathy Gates Milewski

---- — Have you ever tried cornmeal coconut pancakes? It’s one of those things you can’t wrap your brain around until your taste buds get involved, and then you’re completely blown away by the flavor combo.

Trying a new food may not present a life-altering experience, but what it does represent is having a new experience, and isn’t that what life is all about, going out on a limb and saying, “Why not me, why not now”?

Currently, high school and college graduates are looking for that new experience, deemed ready to pursue the “next step” by society. But what do we personally know about them and more specifically, what do we know about our female graduates? After interviewing four recent high school and college female graduates, the answers are clear.

“I am strong, stubborn, positive, inspired, determined, creative, persistent, independent and committed.” This is the collective voice of the four graduate participants who will enter our colleges and workforce this year. Both Haverhill High School grads will attend four-year colleges this fall; the University of New Hampshire and Boston College, majoring in pre-veterinary science and biology. Both UMass Dartmouth grads will enter the workforce, one in textile design, the other in nursing.

All four grads feel their public education has prepared them well for the future. The high school grads, or the 18s, feel that beyond academics they have learned that obstacles are not impossible to overcome; they try not to sweat the small stuff. The college grads, or the 21s, see a world vastly bigger than the small towns they came from. They are confident advocates for themselves, finding strength in their opinions.

The 18s credit friends with aiding in their development, while the 21s view friends as a “family away from family.” One 21 recognizes that dealing with “friend” relationships has taught her to know herself better, adhering unwaveringly to her moral code.

The grads agree that participation in work, athletics and clubs has taught them time management, commitment, mental toughness, persistence and responsibility. One 21 commented that when people depend on you to make decisions, it forces you to grow up.

The grads found needed support over the past four years from varying sources. One 21 cited two professors who helped her believe that she is good at what she does, while one 18 praised a Latin teacher who sparked not only her desire to learn, but a hunger for independent thinking as well. The other 18 learned a never-give-up attitude through attending an MIT camp for kids who are coping with parental cancer.

Both groups believe society labels them unfairly. The 18s think they are seen as reckless and incapable of doing anything, and yet, expected to change the world. The 21s hear the words “privileged” and “immature,” but this only inspires them to be more independent.

All four believe that being a female will play a positive role in their future. The 18s know they are in the minority going into the sciences, but think it gives them an advantage. One 21 thinks that women sometimes have to work harder to prove they are just as competent as men.

When asked what they are looking forward to most in the next few months, the 18s are excited to meet new people and gain some independence, while the 21s see boundless opportunities, excited to be self-sufficient.

Both groups have legitimate worries. The 18s have been driven academically and feel the pressure to perform. One has fears of not reaching her goals, while the other worries about getting behind if she decides to change her major. One 21 realizes that a job could separate her from everything she has known, and yet, she knows that with opportunity comes change and growth, however imperfect the path.

Both sets of grads offer similar advice to incoming freshman: “Enjoy the next four years because it goes fast.” One 21 advised, “Be yourself and don’t conform to those around you. You are who you are for a reason. Take charge of your education by taking classes that interest you. See college as an opportunity to actually learn something new while pursuing your major.”

In four years the 18s see themselves in grad school, studying veterinary science and biology (specializing in cancer research). While the nurse envisions a successful career in an intensive care unit, the art grad plans to be creating repeat fabric designs for home interiors.

Although their ages and experiences vary, these young women are focused, mindful of the world and excited to pursue their dreams. They are confident, intelligent women who recognize that when you get the chance to try a cornmeal coconut pancake you should take it — go out on a limb, and say, “Why not me, why not now,” because you just never know how sweet it really could be.

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Kathy Gates Milewski lives in Merrimac.