SKHS grads don't let recession spoil their day

It’s not easy out there for a high-school graduate.

The economy is slumping, tuition is rising and colleges are harder to get into in general.

But Tuesday night, South Kitsap High School’s Class of 2011 prepared to meet the challenge. About 565 students walked in commencement exercises at the Tacoma Dome.

“Walking off the stage, those next steps really force mature decisions to be made,” said district superintendent Dave LaRose. “It would be a shame if we’re recognized as a state that allows the economy hold kids back.”

Nevertheless, LaRose finds the accomplishments of South’s graduates to be inspiring.

“How do we harness a moment of inspiration to get them to the next step?” he asked. “What’s important is that we equip them with what they need to be successful in (their) next milestone.”

The challenges of the future have been evident throughout the school year.South Kitsap principal Jerry Holsten acknowledged that tough economic times mean “some of the doors aren’t as open as they were before.”

Even so, he said, graduates need to be “persistent and explore what they’re interested in. They’re quality young adults leaving our institution.”

One of those students is Ashlee Becker.

Becker was the student-body president, participated in two sports — swimming and track — and graduated with honors. But even with those credentials and a 3.5 grade-point average, she will not study at a four-year university this fall. Becker initially planned to head to the University of Redlands in California, but could not afford annual tuition of more than $30,000.

“The economy sucks,” said Becker, who plans to attend Olympic College. “Everything is more competitive. I have to keep going — don’t give up.”

South counselor Susan Mosby has noticed a “smidge” more students who are bypassing a four-year university to attend a community college. She said that relates to recent news that the state’s universities each would raise tuition from 11 to 20 percent.

“It’s so new in the news that they weren’t able to plan for it as much,” Mosby said. “I think it’s going to be a little harder when they see the bills come through.”

She said counselors and others are working with students on possibilities to reduce those expenses. For those who are not interested in alternatives, such as community college, Mosby advises that they contact the financial-aid office of the university they plan to attend. She said scholarships sometimes are forfeited late when students decide not to enroll.

Mosby said she is working with juniors earlier and warning them about financial uncertainties that can affect their college plans.

One student who does not have to worry about that is Jens Johnson. Even with a busy academic schedule — he maintained a 3.9 GPA — and playing football and diving, Johnson needed to find a way to pay for non-resident tuition at the University of Texas, which runs more than $30,000 per year.

His solution was to apply for scholarships early — and often. Johnson, who plans to pursue a biology major, landed a Navy ROTC scholarship that will pay for his tuition at Texas. He also landed other scholarships, including Maynard Lundberg’s.

“I just have to pay for my housing, and that’s what the other scholarships are for,” Johnson said.

Connar Lund said the tuition increases did not concern him. The last of five siblings to graduate from South within the last decade plans to attend Olympic College and then transfer to Washington or Washington State.

For Lund, commencement was an opportunity to reflect. His favorite memory was visiting New York as a member of the school’s chamber choir.

“We went to a gospel church and sang with them,” Lund said. “I never thought I would ever be that far from home.”

For some graduates, South was the closest thing to home they had.Brennan Schram declined to divulge many details, but said he had “a rough time” rotating between his parents’ homes and friends in recent years. His grandmother primarily raised him through junior-high school.

“It’s hard to do your homework, stay in school and on track when you have to figure out your next place to sleep,” he said, adding that he plans join the Coast Guard and eventually pursue a culinary-related career.

“I just hit the books really hard this year because I knew I really needed to do it.”

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