Jan. 8, 2013
By Kimberly Rivers, contributor
A future chemical engineer, an aspiring congressman, an up-and-coming entertainment mogul, a soon-to-be bilingual psychologist and a dancer preparing to take the stage in New York City gathered at Matilija Junior High Thursday to tell students how their experiences at Matilija and Nordhoff High School prepared them for life after graduation.
“These young adults, all previous Matilija and Nordhoff students, are where you will be in just a few years and are looking back to where you are now,” said Bill Rosen, principal of Matilija Junior High School, to begin the presentation.
“We are here to get you fired up, to get you inspired for what’s to come in your future. I hope that when you walk out the door today you’ll be that much closer to dreaming about the things that make you excited about learning. That’s our goal to get you focused on whatever your dreams are,” said Kim Hoj, Nordhoff High School teacher and dean of academic services, while introducing the five recent Nordhoff graduates on the panel.
Almost all the panelists emphasized two points. One is the importance of discovering what makes them passionate and second, the importance of taking Advanced Placement classes at Nordhoff.
“I went to college with more than one full semester of AP credits and, as a result, I am going to save about $30,000 because I get to skip a semester of college,” explained Matt Smith, a senior at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who is majoring in political science, public policy and economics. “That is a decision I made in 10th grade, just three years from where you guys are. Decisions you are making now are going to be affecting your life for a while.”
Nick Perkins, a freshman at Stanford University, agreed. “Don’t be afraid to take challenging courses,” he said. “Colleges really like to see you challenge yourself and improve over time. Some of the people who you will take advanced classes with will be some of your best friends.”
Perkins, who described himself as a “math-lete” when he was in seventh grade, is pursuing a major in engineering and hopes to become a chemical engineer.
“I can’t emphasize enough, if you challenge yourself for the AP classes, you are surrounded by people who want to do better, who want to go to college, who are interested in school and that same group follows you throughout high school,” explained Diana Hernandez, a freshman at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
Hernandez, is majoring in psychology with an emphasis on early childhood development and families, with a minor in Spanish. She plans to work as a psychologist, helping families whose children live with disabilities.
Gianna Burright, a junior at the University of California at Santa Barbara, explained how she discovered her love of dance at Nordhoff. “I was passionate about dance, thanks to Ms. Hoj. She helped me find that…. When I was sitting where you are, I had no idea what I was going to be doing, no idea what my life would look like. I hadn’t even opened the door to dance. I didn’t dance at that time in my life. My mom forced me into the dance class starting in high school. It is important to find a role model that can guide you to find what you love and help you get to where you need to be.”
Burright first attended Moorpark College where she received two associate in arts degrees in dance and general education, with an emphasis on humanities. After graduating from UCSB, she plans to move to New York to dance professionally and then get a master’s degree in dance.
“You have to find what drives you.” added Smith, whose mother, Kathi Smith, is on the Ojai Unified School District board.
“In junior high, I did my first play. Who knew that a couple years later I’d be majoring in theater?” asked Jessica Slaght, a freshman at University of California at Berkeley. “My biggest challenge was deciding whether I wanted to follow this passion of mine. When I checked out programs at schools I realized that I was not as limited… Look at people who inspire you, adults around you or your peers. Get help at Nordhoff. Don’t be afraid of your teachers, your counselor. They are great resources. Find something that makes you passionate.”
Slaught is pursuing a double major in theater/ performance and media. “I plan to pursue something in the entertainment industry,” she said. “I’d love to have a multifaceted career, a performing career as well as a production/direction type of career.”
“Our big goal is to improve the transition from junior high to high school for all of our students,” explained Hoj. “We recognized this was an area we needed to improve upon. It is a big emotional and academic shift. We want to make the jump to high school as predictable, seamless and inspiring as we can … and show students the relevance of the education they are getting, how the skills and habits they develop now will help them in college.”
The panel presentation was recorded by the Nordhoff Video Productions students and instructor Tom Friedman. It will air on KNHS, Channel 10.