South Medford students celebrate college and career plans

    Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune South Medford snior Guillermo Pulido Luna

    Heather Louise McAdam knows the pressure of being a senior in high school. It’s not eased by the fact that she won’t immediately go to college after leaving South Medford High.

    “Sometimes when people hear you’re not going to college, they kind of shut off, like that’s not what you’re supposed to do,” she said. “But I don’t want to do all of that right away.”

    Instead, the theater kid who describes herself as “entrepreneurial” and dreams of launching a Heather Louise fashion line is going to work in retail for a while, saving money to go to a design school.

    Some people who ask her the inevitable question faced by all high school seniors — “What are you doing after graduation?” — have to hear her explain before celebrating her path, she said.

    That disparity in reaction faded, however, in the courtyard of her school Tuesday morning, when McAdam joined her peers in a classwide celebration of any and all post-graduation steps. South Medford seniors milled around the table laden with blank certificates to the poster where they could write their future plans, clutching plates of sheet cake. They laughed with their friends, hugged their teachers and took photos.

    It was the school’s first “Decision Day” event, organized by South Medford mom and Future Center volunteer Stacy Carle. Inspired by the popularity of “College Decision Day” May 1, she decided to open up the celebration to a broader swath of seniors.

    “We took that and went one step forward,” Carle said. “We want to celebrate all of our students’ choices, not just college.”

    She said she has worked with soon-to-be graduates planning to enlist in the military, enroll in a university, seek employment — or some combination.

    Guillermo Pulido Luna will be the first in his family to attend college, as a member of Southern Oregon University’s ROTC program. He wants to become a registered nurse and deploy at least once while a member of the National Guard.

    “I knew I wanted to help people, and I knew there was something greater for me in putting on that uniform and helping those who can’t help themselves,” said Luna, who added that high school had included “the worst and the best” years of his life so far.

    Sydney Jenkins, meanwhile, will study fire science at Rogue Community College in his goal to become a firefighter. He transferred to South for his senior year and said it was during his time there that he had learned he could study something applicable to his career goals in college.

    “There’s kind of a consensus for our generation that you have to go to college,” he said. “I think it’s important for people to know you don’t have to go to college, and you can go to school for other things than boring desk jobs.”

    Medford School District is increasing its focus on vocational and technical offerings, particularly at the high school level. South Medford Principal Donnie Frazier said the event is tied to a larger shift in philosophy about the goals of high school education.

    “In the past we haven’t always given kids a platform for celebrating what they’re doing besides attending a university,” he said. “It’s part of a larger approach as we try to redefine what we’re all about.”

    Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

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