Every spring, while the majority of their peers are deciding between a variety college options across California, a handful of Sonoma Valley High School seniors choose schools far beyond the Golden State.
A student’s decision to go outside California comes about for many reasons. A desire to see and experience more of the country. A terrific financial package in a time when state school’s are raising their tuition and cutting aid. To study at a school that is world-renowned in a particular field. The reasons are as different as the students.
Sean Hammett, ’10, had his pick of top colleges and universities across the country. He chose Dartmouth, and is amazed by all the school has to offer.
“I’ve seen world famous jazz musicians, art shows, studied under phenomenal professors, taken advantage of Dartmouth’s world class weight room, backpacked around the state and run around a bonfire that dwarfs SVHS’s biggest,” he says.
Hammett lives alongside students from Liberia, Jordan and Holland and in his first weeks already formed close friendships with students from Colorado, Pennsylvania, Arizona, London and Manhattan. Despite the distance from home, he can’t imagine being anyplace else.
Nonie Cobb, ’10, is loving life at nearby University of New Hampshire. Her thinking in heading so far from home was, “to gain experiences and views that will serve me well for the rest of my life.”
Making an entirely new set of friends is a challenge for all college students, but Cobb says, “You are going to find people like you wherever you go. Going out of state gives you great opportunities to broaden your horizons and perspectives on the world.”
Whitman College is on the West Coast, tucked onto beautiful grounds in Walla Walla, WA, and the school’s 1,450 students hail from 45 states and 30 nations. Troy Cameron looked at a wide variety of schools but is glad today that he chose Whitman.
“Being far away, there’s a motivation to get involved and explore new perspectives for all they are worth,” says Cameron. “It really forces you to figure out exactly what makes you unique and what you have to offer others. College is all about self-discovery, or so the cliché goes, and I think having that distance from home makes the process easier.”
Cameron says that the best thing about life at college so far is the realization that the possibilities truly are limitless. “College is the place to develop whatever interests you had previously and really put them into practice. If you dive in headfirst, there’s no telling what you can accomplish with all the resources available to you as a college student.”
Cameron admits that he is lucky to be at a school where his largest class is 30 students and every professor knows his name. “The individual attention at Whitman is astounding.”
Class of 2010 grad Miriam Magana was accepted into 11 colleges and universities. She chose one that her Sonoma friends had likely never even heard of: Macalester College in St. Paul, a top-ranked liberal arts college with students from 49 states and 93 countries. “My friends are from all over the world!” says Magana. “I’ve made friends from Equador to China to New York and it gives you such incredibly diverse perspectives in discussions and forces you to look at the world differently.”
Magana says, “I wanted to keep exploring this world and I knew that a completely different environment would force me to grow and enable me to become more independent.” She adds that she is very close to her family and she knows they are back in Sonoma supporting her and will still be there when she comes home.
While Macalester and Syracuse share a similar (cold!) climate, the two schools are about as different as colleges can be. Emily Hawing, ’10, is loving a completely different school experience. “I am so happy with my decision to leave California for college,” says Hawing. “Why not take advantage of this opportunity to live in a completely new place for four years?”
While she sometimes finds the cold weather and being far from home tough to bear, she says, “I love the freedom to choose what I study, and that so many different choices and opportunities are mine to make and mine to take.”
“I stepped out of my comfort zone and put myself in a situation where I had no idea what to expect,” says Hawing. “There are so many activities and kinds of people here that you just don’t find in Sonoma that you feel like you are in a whole different world.”
Perhaps the best news for the students coming up the ranks at SVHS is that these students feel, without exception, that the school prepared them well for life at college. Says Hammett, “While everyone at Dartmouth seems brilliant, which is intimidating, SVHS did a great job preparing me.” He particularly thanks Linda Dillon, Pam Adams, Alison Manchester and Dan Alderson, crediting them with a great part of his success at Dartmouth.
Magana found her AVID class so helpful at SVHS that she has signed up to volunteer once a week in an AVID classroom in St. Paul. “I’m excited to be a college mentor for them as the college students who came to speak with us at SVHS had such a strong impact on me.”
Hawing is studying Photography at Syracuse and she feels that “SVHS and Mr. Mitchell did a great job of creating a base for what I am going to learn here.”
Cameron was also eager to send thanks back to his teachers at SVHS. “Chemistry has been a breeze so far, thanks to Mick O’Meara and Philosophy is a lot easier when you’ve already discussed the text in depth with Daniel Alderson.”
So what advice do these college freshman have for this year’s juniors and seniors at SVHS? “I would encourage seniors to look into out-of-state schools. It would be foolish to write off the amazing opportunities that await you,” says Cameron. “ Go ahead and experience something totally new. Some homesickness is inevitable whether you are 50 miles or 2,000 miles from home.”
Magana also urges current SVHS students not to limit their college lists to state schools. “My schools were all over the place, and I hadn’t even seriously considered MacAlester until I visited and fell in love with it.”
Says the sage Sonoma grad, “You’re young. You have your whole life ahead of you. Don’t limit your options!”