Last Thursday’s graduation wasn’t the final chapter for Palmyra-Macedon High School seniors, but rather a beginning to a new one.

Last Thursday’s graduation wasn’t the final chapter for Palmyra-Macedon High School seniors, but rather a beginning to a new one.

Across the country, high school seniors are preparing for an uncertain next phase, and Pal-Mac seniors are approaching their future with high hopes for success. Picking a major means a student must weigh the job market with their passions and interests. Pal-Mac grads are taking it all in stride.

Valedictorian Dana Nau, 18, of Palmyra, will be attending the University of Rochester, where she plans to major in Spanish and biology.

“I chose this university because my father completed his undergrad there and had an amazing experience,” Nau said. “I have attended countless sports camps here, and have truly fallen in love with the campus as well. U of R's education program, in which you can choose all of your own classes and build your own schedule, became the most important reason for me to choose this school.”

Eighteen-year-old Crista Curry of Macedon will pursue culinary arts and business management for her major at Alfred State College. She’s optimistic about her future.

“I grew up cooking and realized I have a talent and passion for it,” she said. “The food industry is always a good field of work because people will always need food.”

That optimism was shared by many students at Pal-Mac, where the trend for graduating seniors was to follow their hearts, just like Curry is doing.

Alena Comella, 18, of Macedon, was named co-salutatorian at Pal-Mac, a title she shares with 17-year-old Leandra Griffith.

Comella will major in neuroscience at the U of R, while Griffith is pursuing English and education with a minor in Spanish at SUNY Geneseo. Both are delving into the career studies that interest them most.

“I'm excited for college and the years awaiting me after that,” Comella said. “I know I will push myself to be successful in whatever I choose to pursue. I am also sure that the world will continue to grow, and I will hopefully live in an even better world than I do today.”

Even if students are encouraged to follow their passions, it doesn’t mean educators and counselors want students to ignore the economic realities.

Griffith has a passion for writing, but sees the need to be realistic in deciding her future.

“I love writing and want to become a successful author/publisher someday,” she said. “I also love helping kids, so being a teacher will come naturally. I wanted to major in English to enter the writing/publishing business, but I know how hard it is to be successful, so I'm double majoring in education so I can teach to fall back on.”

Haleigh Wetzel, 18, of Palmyra, will be exploring the world of biomedical engineering at the U of R and is looking far beyond her first years of college.

“I chose (the U of R) because it’s a small and beautiful campus with a great medical program,” she said. “It will help me prepare for medical school. I feel prepared to begin my future. Other than having a full-time job, I’d enjoy traveling the world.”

Beyond college
A question many students vying for liberal arts diplomas hear is what will they do with that degree after college graduation — especially in a bad economy.

Unemployment is high, and some professions have taken more of a hit than others. But that doesn’t seem to be affecting what students want to study.

Stacy Wiley is the director of career development at Geneseo. She said, “Despite all the media focus on certain fields being better than other fields, students still choose something they enjoy and that they are competent and good at.”

And according to Wiley, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

When it comes to majoring in English, “the core values are how to communicate,” she said, adding that that’s something businesses want in a candidate.

Wiley agrees. She said people who hire Geneseo students want the qualities a liberal arts education can provide: problem solving, critical thinking and effective communication. And, Wiley said, a liberal arts education has the added benefit of a tolerance and appreciation for diversity. She said students in majors like English are exposed to diverse opinions, thoughts, and different ways of life in their peer interactions as well as their course work — important exposure as the world gets smaller.

Pragmatism
Keeping it real is key for students as they explore the careers they feel most passionate about.

“Whatever I decide to do with my life, I know I will be successful,” Leandra Griffith said. “The support of my friends and family will keep me going.”

Alena Comella isn’t worried about life after college.

“I've always been interested in medicine, and it's just a nice perk that society and the economy will always need health care professionals,” she said.

But Dana Nau isn’t taking anything for granted, doing her homework on jobs and the trends of today’s market.

“Job market trends definitely influenced my career choice,” she said. “I researched job outlooks for the future, and based my decision off a field which will have increasing job openings. After hearing so much about a declining economy and decreasing jobs, I wanted to ensure that I would have a job available to me after college.”

That kind of pragmatism starts at the high school level.

“Part of our job is educating kids about the job market,” said Wiley. “We just want them to be realistic.”

The danger is having the expectation of finding jobs locally. Wiley said as students approach college graduation and begin their job search, “being willing to cast a wider net” is key.

That means for students pursuing careers in education — a consistently popular major — being aware of the job market in New York is important. There may not be opportunity in their hometown, but there are jobs for teachers in specialized fields and in different geographic areas, she said. Right now, Wiley said, the South is hiring teachers.

“It’s a completely different market,” she said.

Looking to the future
To those high school seniors starting a new chapter of their lives, it’s important for them to know the final pages haven’t been written yet — they can always change their minds.

“I am so excited for my future beyond college,” Nau said. “Right now I am focusing on transitioning into college, but I know my education at the U of R will prepare me for life outside of college, and I will have the experience and opportunities to succeed after my undergrad and grad school years.”

Wiley said declaring a minor is “a path a lot of students are taking.” That way, if a student’s passion doesn’t land them a career, their minor might give them something to fall back on.

Before students get to that point, NextStepU’s career publication helps future college students identify “new and exciting career paths they might not have thought of.”

Especially in a tough job market, those “off the beaten path” jobs are where students are successful. Thinking about ways to apply old majors to new careers is important — like applying English or design knowledge to a career in new media.

And looking to the future, majoring in general liberal arts could prepare students for a future they haven’t even imagined.

“I'm excited for college and the years awaiting me after that,” Comella said. “I know I will push myself to be successful in whatever I choose to pursue. I am also sure that the world will continue to grow, and I will hopefully live in an even better world than I do today.”

Despite the economic woes of today’s world, Pal-Mac grads are keeping the faith in the plans they have set for themselves and to build on the values they’ve been taught all their lives.

“I am excited and optimistic about what my future will bring,” Crista Curry said. “The future is always bright for those who truly want it to be.”

—Inclues reporting by Rachel Repard