MARY LAINE YARBER : Graduating Seniors Know They Will Face Hardships

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<i> Mary Laine Yarber teaches English at Santa Monica High School. </i>

For several years now I’ve read media reports about how much tougher it is these days for high school graduates to succeed in college or in the job world.

I agree.

But when such reports go on to say that graduates are naive or ignorant about life’s hardships, I beg to differ.

In fact, a recent survey of my own students, who will graduate in two weeks, shows just the opposite: Although my students are hopeful about their futures, they are well aware that many difficult and even frightening obstacles lie ahead.


Here’s what some of them had to say:

“I don’t yet know much about life, and people are already expecting me to make decisions,” said Cecilia Wong, who is struggling to decide on a college major. “If I make the wrong decision, I’ll have to live with it for the rest of my life.”

For many, the path will include college. Richard Zheng is eager “to learn more, to have fun and to have more friends,” he said. “When I talk to middle-aged people, 90% of them talk about their college life. Their stories really excite me.”

The students are already aware, however, of the trials of college life.

“In college, there is too much competition between students,” Wendy Arbeit said, “and C’s are considered utter failure.”

Elva Gonzalez sees money as a potential problem. “My fear is that I won’t be able to make it through college because I will have to work,” she said. “If I don’t get a good-paying job (while in college), I’m going to have to choose between college and work.”

A couple of students worry that they may not be able to attend college at all because they are not legal residents and thus cannot qualify for scholarships or other monetary help.

One of them, who asked to remain anonymous, dreams of studying science at UCLA. “When I (found out) I couldn’t have the money to pay for college, I felt very sad,” she said. “I work very hard to get good grades, and now I can’t do anything to continue my studies.”


The goal of raising a family was mentioned by many of the students.

“I want to end up with a good husband who has a good career, doesn’t drink or smoke, and is a great and supporting father, like my dad,” Laura Diaz said.

“I plan to put my whole life into my children,” Sigrin Torres explained. “They’ll be loved and nurtured throughout their lives.”

Like many adults, most of these teen-agers are haunted by the unpredictable job market. For example, Huvishka Mustamandy wants a career in criminal law but worries that he’ll “go through years of college and won’t find a job.”

“I’m afraid of being unsuccessful; I don’t like to depend on others,” he said.

Achieving a general contentment with life is a concern of my students too.

“I just know and have heard of many people who aren’t happy in the life they are living,” Randie Flower said.

In particular, she’s afraid of unknowingly choosing the wrong career. Likewise for Jenny Reifel-Saltzberg, who is now headed to Portugal as a foreign exchange student.

“My biggest fear is that I won’t get a job I like, or I’ll be stuck in a city or town I don’t like,” she said. “I’m also afraid I won’t be happy with the person I want to marry.”


Claudia Cueva worries about bad choices too. “My main fear,” she said, “is that I don’t become a teacher and end up being something else which I don’t like.”

Some grads have a more basic (and chilling) fear: violent death.

“My main fear is dying before I accomplish all of my goals,” Hugo Ramirez said. “I want to get married, finish college, travel and design my own house.”

Said David Aghai: “With the way society is today, I hope to make it past my college life. A big worry for me is to stay alive.”