Laguna Beach High’s College Unplugged aims to help students make decisions on future

Nathan Solomon, a 2020 graduate of Laguna Beach High, speaks at the school's College Unplugged event on Jan. 5.
(Courtesy of Laguna Beach Unified School District)

Not all lessons taught at school are strictly academic.

For the past seven years at Laguna Beach High School, prospective college students have had the chance to better understand the decisions before them through the College Unplugged event.

A panel of seven recent alumni from Laguna Beach returned to their old stomping grounds on Jan. 5, sharing their advice and experience on how to approach a question that can seem overwhelming at times: Where to go to college?

The panelists covered most paths to be considered, with representation covering the community college, Cal State University and University of California systems, as well as out-of-state universities and even one student who chose to study abroad.

Laguna Beach High alumnus Ryan Smithers, class of 2019, speaks at the school's College Unplugged event on Jan. 5.
(Courtesy of Laguna Beach Unified School District)

Ryan Smithers, a former Daily Pilot Boys’ Cross-Country Dream Team Athlete of the Year who is studying mechanical engineering at Yale, advised students not to get caught up in the notion that the best school for them is the one with the prestigious reputation.

“I’ve loved Yale, but I mentioned in College Unplugged that I probably would have just as much liked UCLA or any other state school,” Smithers, a 2019 Laguna Beach graduate, said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I hope that students take that to heart a little bit more.

“I know they’re bashed over the head with that saying over and over again, but really, it isn’t everything, and sure, it may give you a slight head start on your first job. That’s kind of what I mentioned, but in terms of long-term career projections, it really does not matter in terms of prestige which school you go to.

“In fact, if you’re happier at one school, you’re just going to do better work, and if you do better work, you’re probably going to end up in a better position, or a position that you might like more.”

The panelists for Laguna Beach High's College Unplugged event on Jan. 5.
(Courtesy of Laguna Beach Unified School District)

College Unplugged has been offered at the school since 2015, Laguna Beach principal Jason Allemann said.

Alumni returning to speak at the event earlier this month also included Jordan Burton (Class of 2017, Irvine Valley College and Sonoma State), Luca Elghanayan (2020, UC Berkeley), Cat Jacobs (2018, Wisconsin), Mia Pitz (2019, University College Dublin), Ryan Robinson (2019, UC Irvine) and Nathan Solomon (Tufts University).

“Being a transfer student, I had a slightly different college path than my panelists, but I am a huge advocate for the community colleges [and] transfer process,” Burton said in a statement released following the event. “I’m glad I was able to give some advice and show that community college is just another steppingstone in the college experience.”

The panelists were chosen by Laguna Beach’s Lynn Gregory, a college and career specialist, and Angela Shipp, a scholarship and financial aid specialist.

Laguna Beach High alumni spoke at the school's College Unplugged event on Jan. 5.
(Courtesy of Laguna Beach Unified School District)

Gregory discussed the contributions of the alumni to the success of the event in a prepared statement.

“College Unplugged is one of my favorite assemblies of the year,” Gregory said. “I feel like a proud parent welcoming home their student from college. I continue to be in awe of the wisdom and sage advice our alumni have to offer our current student body. Candid discussions about making friends, managing the rigor of academics, overcoming homesickness and how to balance social life are some of my favorite topics. Life is about navigating the twists and turns along the journey.”

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