For new graduates, life's next adventure Farewell: Nearly 4,100 students are leaving their Baltimore high schools for college, study abroad or the workaday world.

June 04, 1998|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Across Baltimore, thousands of high school seniors will graduate today through Tuesday with pangs of nostalgia, excitement and dread as they ready themselves for college or the work force.

At Baltimore City College yesterday, about 300 seniors gathered in the auditorium for a pregraduation fare-thee-well to laud, applaud and wax poetic about embarking upon life's next adventure.

"I'm eager to see more things and go to college," said City College senior Kathleen Berrigan, 16, who will spend a year in Germany before attending Oberlin College. "I'm going to miss certain people, but there is not really anyone I'm not going to see again."

Principals, guidance counselors and teachers say this has been a good year for seniors -- plenty of jobs exist and the Class of 1998 is amassing a record number of scholarships and acceptance letters from top universities.

"We have an overwhelming array of award winners," said Ian Cohen, principal of Polytechnic Institute.

Of Poly's 200-plus graduating seniors, 92 percent have confirmed college admissions, 5 percent will go into the military and a handful are undecided, Cohen said.

At City College, a magnet school, the story is much the same, said Principal Joseph Wilson.

This year's graduating class has more students moving on to four-year colleges than any class in the past 15 years, Wilson said.

The school also boasts its first winner in four years of the National Achievement Scholarship, a prestigious award for students scoring in the top 0.5 percent on their SATs.

At Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical School, seniors have the luxury of many potential employers bidding for their technical skills. "We have more requests to fill jobs in trades than we have got" students, said instructor Benjamin Weber, head of the engineering department.

"Just this year in our senior class, every one of the kids [was] employed, except the two kids that failed and the one who went in the military," Weber said.

Bragging rights

Of the nearly 4,100 graduating seniors in Baltimore, several are standouts in academics, technical skills, athletics and dozens of other areas.

Angela Jones, 17, who is graduating from Mergenthaler, holds the bragging rights to perfect school attendance. She didn't miss one day from kindergarten through her senior year.

Though she doesn't think it is a big deal, her parents say it has helped her to graduate in the top 5 percent of her class. She has been accepted by Coppin State College and is awaiting word whether she will be accepted into the college's nursing program.

"I just took it one day at a time," Angela said. "I liked some of the subjects and the people. You learn more, and it is just fun."

Her classmate, Derrelle Young, 17, is optimistic about his chances for success in the work world. Wednesday, he becomes a full-time civilian welder with the Coast Guard.

"I will be making $11.68 an hour," he said. "I have been training since the ninth grade."

Derrelle said he feels lucky to have a secure job so soon. His guidance counselors and teachers encouraged him to get a part-time welding job last year as a junior so he would be more attractive to employers once he graduated.

Society and educators "have pushed kids toward college all the time, but these jobs are out here," said Weber, the Mergenthaler instructor. "I tell kids, 'You are earning money while you are growing.' A lot of times, people thought vo-tech was for slower learners, but it isn't."

Linda Wright, the job-placement coordinator at Mergenthaler, said skills such as electrical construction, machine-tool technology, auto mechanics, drafting and welding are in demand by employers.

Graduating seniors at Mergenthaler are earning about $7 to $11 an hour.

'A better year'

At Venable Senior High, a school for students with special needs, Principal Wynola Cunningham said about 85 percent of her 42 graduating students will have a job. Additionally, nine students will attend Baltimore City Community College.

"It's a better year in terms of student graduation," Cunningham said. "Nine is relatively high for our students going to community college."

Cunningham said she isn't sure why this year is better than some others but speculated it is because more parents are involved in the students' work.

"I think that is a great plus for this particular group of students," she said.

Despite the anticipation, some students say they are concerned about moving from the protected environment of high school, parents and friends. Those bound for college will have to make their own schedules, and day-to-day decisions will be a struggle between working hard and having fun.

Scott Purnell, 17, a senior at Poly who will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall, said he can't wait for his "independence." But he said he will have to work hard not to procrastinate.

L "If I can overcome that I will be able to do well," he said.

Keisha Campbell, 17, a senior at City College who will spend the next four years studying in Gmund, Germany, said she knows the road for her and her classmates will be rough for a while.

"I think a lot of young people have no idea what the real world is like," said Keisha, who won the National Achievement Scholarship.

"They are used to mom doing the laundry and having breakfast already made for them."

Pub Date: 6/04/98

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