College anecdotes: YMCA invites local alumni to talk at college prep program | Local News

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“How are we all feeling today?” David Reed asked a group of wide-eyed high school seniors.

Out of the jumble of over 20 voices, two answers echoed above the rest: “anxious” and “nervous.”

While many kids their age were at the movies or riding roller coasters, these students gave up two days of summer to attend seminars and write resumes. They know college is a year away, and they want to be prepared.

Earlier this week, the Citrus County YMCA hosted its second annual Summer Experience program to prepare upcoming high school seniors for college. Program Directors Pat Simon and David Reed guided students through the financial-aid application process, gave interviewing and resume-writing tips, and discussed what to look for when picking a college.

On Tuesday, July 23, Simon and Reed invited six alumni from the county high schools to sit in on a panel discussion during the lunch break. Staff provided sandwiches and cookies while the students talked about school, jobs, and dorm life.

During the discussion, alumni and staff shared practical advice with the high school students on how to make the most out of their college education. They also shared insights on how to successfully hunt for colleges.

“Every one of these alumni went to a different school than they thought they were going to attend at your age,” said Citrus County School Board Member Thomas Kennedy.

Several of the alumni shared how through high school, they had their dream college and ideal career. By the last few months of their senior year, however, their plans changed — and they were OK with that.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’m not going to UF,’ but I applied anyways,” Lecanto High School alumna Anna Buettner said. “Then they offered me money … I knew I wanted to travel and get a master’s, so I didn’t want to be in debt.”

For Buettner, those scholarships sealed the deal.

“Now I can say I’m happy to be a Florida Gator,” she said. “I kept my mind closed for a long time, but to open it is worth it.”

Even with scholarships, college is expensive. Calab Russo, a Crystal River High school alumnus attending the Fire Academy/EMT school at Central Florida Community College, took advantage of the job opportunities at CF to pay for his schooling and get experience in his field.

“The firefighting school at CF is set up so that I could work,” said Russo. “That way, I was able to put money away to pay for all of EMT school while at firefighting school.”

During the discussion, the alumni encouraged students to look for colleges that not only offer a quality education, but also appeal to their specific interests and goals. Alumna Jessica Thibault shared how her unexpected college choice led to an unforeseen opportunity.

“I was good at school … I had a 4.0 GPA, so everyone thought I was weird because I could go to college anywhere, yet I chose to go to CF,” Thibault said. “I wouldn’t have the job I have now if I didn’t go to CF.”

Thibault now works for the College of Central Florida in Ocala as an admissions adviser.

Russo, like Thibault, encouraged students to keep an open mind, particularly when it comes to deciding on a career. From Russo’s perspective, some careers are just made for certain personalities.

In high school and college, Russo hated sitting in lecture halls. As a natural outdoorsman and problem-solver, however, firefighting was right up his alley.

“I attended college to be a nurse, but after my first semester at CF, I knew I didn’t want to do that,” he said. “Then my friend who went to firefighting school told me I should go too.”

After a week at firefighting school, he was there to stay.

“At fire school, we were always doing something, always outside … it doesn’t get more cool than that.”

To round off the discussion, Simon asked the alumni to share final pieces of advice for the high school seniors. Each had something different to say, but they could all agree that enthusiasm, hard work, and confidence matters just as much as the GPAs and test scores.

Crystal River alumna Lauren Caffe, for instance, took her enthusiasm for soccer onto NCAA playing field at Jacksonville University. Despite her doubts as a young college student, she’s making a career out of her favorite sport.

“I would often think to myself, ‘This isn’t realistic,’ but everyone’s path to success is different,” Caffee said.

Thibault, now a published writer, encouraged students to use their next four years to learn about themselves, find the work they love, and put their all into it — even after they fail. As a college student, Thibault wanted to write; turning that dream into a reality involved risk-taking and failure.

“Writing books didn’t fall into what people thought I was going to do — but I published my first book last year, and all my students are reading it,” Thibault said. “Have confidence in yourself, and don’t be afraid to fail.”

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