The Road Less Traveled
Some high school grad decide to go the un-college route
In recent weeks many Wilton parents will go through the time-honored ritual of dropping off their high-school graduates at college. Launching your child into the next chapter of his or her life is a bittersweet experience tinged with a heaping dose of parental pride and a generous dollop of worry. But not every graduate opts for the college experience. Some choose the road less traveled, so we decided to check in with three recent Wilton High School graduates to learn from them, in their own words, why they went the un-college route.
KARA ZALESNY “You can tell a lot about a person by their hair,” says Kara authoritatively. And she should know, having been captivated by hair as far back as she can remember. Today, Kara gets up at 5:00 a.m. every day and commutes from Mahopac to New York City to attend The Empire Beauty School of Manhattan where she is studying the beauty business with a firm focus on hair.
“My parents always told me I have the brains to do something phenomenal, so I used to wonder if the beauty industry was right for me. I wondered if I was taking the ‘easy way out.’ However, I soon realized that you can use your intelligence in many different ways. When you work hard enough, and really want something, you can be the absolute best at what you do.
“When I graduate from cosmetology school, I hope to work side by side with celebrity stylists at a high-end salon in New York or at an edgy salon in Brooklyn that does rockabilly, post-punk, or vintage hairstyles.
“My mother is very artistic, so she was always on board. My dad was more skeptical. He didn’t think I could make a career out of hair, and viewed it as more of a hobby. But now he’s more understanding. He realizes it isn’t a phase or a joke, but really something I want to do with my life.
“At school I definitely felt different from the other kids. Earlier this year they were all putting up pennants on their lockers from the colleges they were going to attend—Colgate, Cornell, UConn—and I wasn’t. One of the struggles I’ve encountered while pursuing my career is the pressure from my peers to do something ‘greater’. But what I find to be ‘great’ is doing something I love. To others, doing something ‘great’ is enrolling in an Ivy League college.
“My advice to others is do something that you truly enjoy and can see yourself succeeding in. Don’t just do what your parents want you to do. Choose something where you can see yourself waking up every day and saying, ‘I can’t wait to go work.’ And if you feel like you don’t belong, always remember that you belong somewhere; you just have to find where it is.”
Most kids can’t wait to finish high school, but Wilton’s Harrison Black is looking forward to repeating his senior year—in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He deferred his acceptance to Keene College for a year so he could pursue his dream of living in a different country through a sponsorship with the International Rotary Program.
“I was inspired after hearing about the program from family friends. Their daughter went to Brazil and their son went to Chile and both became fluent in the native languages. I thought it was the coolest thing ever and I knew I had to do it.
“My parents are very big travelers. We’ve been on family vacations to Australia, Iceland, Mexico, and the Caribbean. My mom backpacked around the world after she got out of college, so she is very excited about my plans.
“In Ecuador, I’ll be staying with three different host families. I took Spanish in high school so I’ll be able to communicate at a basic level. My number-one goal is to become fluent, but in addition I want to understand the culture. I also want to play a lot of soccer because I live, breathe, and eat soccer.
“This will be my first time traveling alone. I think I’ll grow up a lot and become more independent. I don’t really have any fears. I think I’ll be good at adapting if any problems arise. It’s going to be an unforgettable experience. It’s going to change the course of my life.”
When Gabe Marsan crossed the stage to accept his high-school diploma last June, the Class of 2014 gave him a standing ovation. He’s not entirely sure why, but he thinks they wanted to show him their respect for his very public decision to join the military. Within weeks of graduating, Gabe reported for boot camp at the Merchant Marine Academy in Great Neck, New York.
“The students at Wilton High School have been behind me one hundred percent. They’ve asked questions to try to understand my choice because it’s so radically different from what they’re choosing to do. But since I was in middle school I knew this was what I wanted. My dad was a reserve officer in the naval medical corps and told me lots of stories. I also read a lot about World War II and knew all the battles by heart.
“My hope is to be a pilot. My parents pushed me toward military academies and encouraged me to choose officer over enlisted. Now that it’s happening, my mom has been a little stressed, a little nervous about what the future holds.
“Mostly I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like, to actually have the experience I’ve been preparing for, for so long—that first day when they shave your head, hand you your uniform, and say welcome to the United States Merchant Marine Academy.
“I’m very patriotic. I want to serve the United States because I really do love this country. It’s not perfect but I believe we’re close to being the ideal nation, and I think that its citizens are worth protecting. I’m not afraid for myself. I’ve never really thought about getting hurt and honestly, if you think too much about that, you’d probably never go.”