Thomas Jefferson graduates reflect on where they’ve been and where they’re going.
On the cusp of freshman year, one’s high school career is daunting. Four years of attending class, struggling through homework, and attempting to pass finals can seem indicative of an eternity of crumpled papers and sleep deprivation. There is but one assurance that the toil will be worthwhile, emerging in the form of golden-robed graduates. The credits, extracurriculars, and concurrent enrollment classes are all recognized in a stunning ceremony clinched with the flip of a tassel from the right to the left. When the Thomas Jefferson class of 2018 received their diplomas, no one could deny that they would go on to do great deeds. Their intellect and determination provided endless possibilities. Now, six months after their last day of being Spartans, the graduates have brought their voices back to TJ to relate how their lives have transformed.
The specialized classes taught at TJ played a major part in graduate Sonia Pacheco-Neri’s goals for the future. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Colorado State University. “Taking Ms. Estlund’s psychology class opened my eyes to the possibilities of having a career in this field,” the college freshman enthused. High school prepared her for the pursuit of a highly challenging career path. “I went from working hard [at TJ] to now having to work ten times harder and crying myself to sleep every night,” she joked about her increase in workload. A B.S. in Psychology requires a minimum of 51 credit hours with multiple upper-division electives. Coupled with the demands of making one’s way as a college student, potent resolution is necessary to achieve such a prestigious title. “Don’t stress out too much in high school. You’ll have plenty of time to stress out in college,” Pacheco-Neri advises the current students of TJ.
Alongside adjusting to the intensity of college, former Spartan Andrew Villescas had to get used to the heat of attending a school in Las Vegas. He chose a major in hospitality with a focus on golf management, ultimately planning to work professionally at a golf course in Hawaii. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, with notable alumni including Guy Fieri and multiple NBA members, will prepare Villescas for a career in the golf industry. “I can’t wait to start my career after college,” he enthused. Though he has planned far past his university years, Villescas hasn’t forgotten about TJ. “I am excited for my future but miss my supportive teachers and great friends. As I look back, I really miss [high school] and wish I could do it all over again,” he insisted. The TJ alumnus advised freshmen to get involved and try new things as they enter their secondary years, contending that the more one leaves their comfort zone, the more rewarding their time in high school will be. “[High school] was the highlight of my life,” Villescas professed.
Though still quite sentimental about her adventures at TJ, eighteen-year-old Sophia Ward has already begun to make waves at the University of San Diego. “I am currently organizing a supply drive at my college to get resources to children who were separated at the border and put in detention centers,” Ward informed. She also began volunteering with Reading Legacies, a nonprofit organization focused on supporting vulnerable youth with incarcerated family members. The program’s mission is to create experiences that will improve the reading skills of children whilst strengthening their connection with their parent while they are in prison. Ward noted that TJ gave her the practice she needed in balancing academics with outside activities. “In high school it’s challenging juggling seven classes, volunteering, clubs, studying for the SAT, working, sports, and spending time with my family and friends as well as taking time for myself,” Ward reminisced on the busy schedule of a high school student. Regardless, her memories of her alma mater were far from negative. “I’m going to a university to become a teacher,” she planned. “In ten years, I plan to be working as an AP Language teacher and swim coach at Thomas Jefferson,” Ward expressed her gratitude for the privilege of attending a college. She is currently on track to completing a five-year program available at the University of San Diego for entering the teaching profession. “I am a TJ graduate who still cares very deeply about TJ and public education. I will never stop advocating for an equitable public education system,” Ward conveyed.
Jocelyn Lapham, a veteran of TJ’s JROTC Honor Platoon, found that becoming a college student at Colorado State University reminded her of how much she cared about her relationships from her adolescence. “The community at TJ was really close. . . I really miss the people,” Lapham expressed. She emphasized her strong bond with the members of her JROTC team as well as her respect for her high school teachers. Lapham keeps her plans for the future open-ended. The possibilities she envisions stretch from earning a PhD to traveling the world. “I just want to be doing something meaningful with my life and I’m not yet sure what that will be,” Lapham mused. She is even considering doing a ‘Semester at Sea,’ which would involve traveling to twelve countries while taking college classes on a ship. Other possibilities include visiting West Africa to reconnect with her ancestry. Whatever path she chooses, the variety of classes Lapham took while at TJ will prepare her for anything. “Don’t be closed off to taking different classes because you never know what you’ll learn that could one day really come in handy,” she encouraged the TJ student body.
Though surviving college is undeniably stressful, the Thomas Jefferson class of 2017 has maintained the motivation seen in this year’s ream of college freshmen. Bethany Hawley is balancing a part-time job with her full-time college education. “A job in insurance calls for a huge amount of responsibility since you’re handling other’s information and files,” Hawley explained. She hopes to graduate with her bachelor’s degree and progress to medical school. Hawley stressed that learning time-management and staying accountable will be vital for the current students of TJ, saying that the skills have served her well in her post-secondary endeavors. Wilver Barrios has found stability in his study of architectural design after “drowning in [the] stress” of financial aid and college applications. “For the next four years, my plans are just to focus on my career of architectural design, my photography as a hobby, and spending time with the people I care about,” Barrios outlined. Though they retired their gold and brown gear two years ago, the college sophomores have not forgotten their past. Both wish to visit the TJ campus to catch up with teachers and friends. It is undoubtable that they will be welcomed with open arms.
Although the graduates of TJ have pursued diverse métiers, their interviews bear a common thread. Every student cherishes fond memories of their time at TJ. They stress the importance of academic accountability but also remind teenagers to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon known as high school. Scattered across the country, these young adults will draw on their lessons from adolescence to change their lives and change the world.