With graduation just around the corner for Oregon High School seniors, they are likely wondering what their respective futures will look like — some already know, while others are just figuring that out.
Four seniors in particular, who all come from different backgrounds, reminisced with the Observer about their first day of high school and discussed where they aspire to end up after walking the stage.
Bekkan Pearson, Yousif Al Tameemi, Josh Piper and Scarlett Egwuonwu all had different stories, but shared similar feelings about entering into the next chapter of their lives.
Some are off to college in the fall and others are already working. Some graduated early, but will still wear their caps and gowns with their peers Sunday, June 9. Some have been in the community of Oregon their whole lives, while others came from and traveled to different countries, like Iraq and Moldova.
Surrounded by support
Pearson told the Observer she came into OHS as a freshman with a positive attitude — she’s graduating proud to say she’s maintained that optimism.
The summer before her freshman year, Pearson had already joined the OHS Student Council. She said she came into high school feeling relaxed, attributing that to the continuous support she has received from her family and friends.
Although she was born in Iowa, she’s spent her entire school career in the Oregon School District.
“I’ve known these people since I was (age) 5, so that’s cool,” Pearson said, gesturing to the students walking to classes around her. “The school district is one of the best in the surrounding area.”
Throughout her high school career, Pearson has participated in basketball, soccer and volleyball and has made her way up to being the student council vice president. The position also allows her to be an Oregon School District Board of Education liaison.
Pearson also spends her afternoons as a peer special education teacher, only going to class in the mornings.
She is off to Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, in fall to study special education, but did entertain the idea of changing her mind.
“I did what I needed to do here,” Pearson said of having no regrets about her years at OHS.
A challenging transition
Al Tameemi endured a challenging and “heartbreaking” transition after coming to OHS two years ago — he started out his time here not knowing any English.
But that hasn’t stopped him from achieving academically and becoming more acquainted with his peers. And now he’s to walk the stage in a matter of days.
His family originally comes from Basra, Iraq. They moved to the United States in 2017, as Al Tameemi’s father was in the Army as an interpreter, with a background in chemical engineering.
Al Tameemi said his family considered moving to the U.S. as early as 2011, but his grandmother fell ill and asked them to stay to take care of her. Upon her passing in 2015, and as time ran out for Al Tameemi’s family to make a decision to immigrate, the decision became clear.
Fast forward to Al Tameemi’s first day of school at OHS that autumn, and he recalled wanting to cry. He didn’t know anyone nor did he speak any English. He could understand parts from studying the language since third grade, but that was about it.
But he made it through, he said, with the help of some key educators and some new friends he made along the way.
Al Tameemi plays competitive soccer when he’s not rigorously studying, he said. He wants to play the sport in Madison this summer. Then, it’s off to Madison Area Technical College in the fall to study dental hygiene.
“My grandparents told me time is like a sword,” Al Tameemi said. “You cut it before it cuts you – I try not wasting time.”
Finding his place
Piper said the traditional educational model didn’t suit his needs. He told the Observer he would rather be outside in the sun than sit in a classroom all day.
That’s why Piper graduated early. His last day was last winter, but he intends to walk the stage Sunday, Jun 9, with his fellow classmates.
“I grew up in Oregon and have been here from kindergarten until now,” Piper said. “I found out pretty early I wasn’t a huge fan of school.”
It made Piper wary of starting high school and he said his first day was overwhelming, but key teachers helped him find the right resources to succeed, he said.
Piper became heavily involved with the OHS Tech Ed program and spent two years on the Home Construction Crew.
“We built houses from start to finish in Oregon,” Piper said.
He eventually became a foreman on the project, and found he could make a career out of it.
Piper now works for Riverside Construction, framing houses, exterior doors and windows.
“It just kind of fell into place well,” he said. “It’s good money for now and a good place to start.”
Piper said he’s already confronted the reality of being a high school graduate, but walking the stage will still feel like an accomplishment, as there were points during his career he said he could have tried harder.
“(OHS) has a lot of resources you can use to your advantage,” he said.
Choosing a path
After the loss of her father, who had been a supportive force in her life, Egwuonwu said her motivation to succeed in school and travel to new places remained intact.
“We’ve lived in Fitchburg my whole life,” she told the Observer. “I’ve never been in a different house.”
Egwuonwu is grateful for that and the childhood her parents gave her. Her father, originally from Nigeria, died of stage IV thyroid cancer just as she started school at OHS. She said even with his passing, she was able to remain strong.
She ended up going onto state three times as a track athlete — for the 100-meter and 200-meter dash her freshman and sophomore year, making the podium her junior year.
In summer 2016, she embarked on a trip to Germany through the OHS student exchange program. Having developed a connection with her German host family, Egwuonwu wanted to travel again and applied for three three U.S. Department of State Scholarships to study abroad.
She received all of them – one through the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange to study in Germany, another through YES Abroad to study in Muslim countries and yet another through the National Security Language for Youth Initiative to learn Russian in Moldova.
She chose to study in Moldova, as it posed the biggest challenge for Egwuonwu. The nation, formerly a part of the Soviet Union is still recovering economically, she said, making it a different environment that in the United States. Egwuonwu said she met people from all over the world and learned to speak fluent Russian.
Though she’s already technically graduated, she will walk the stage with her peers in a week.
“I think you come out on the other side of loss,” she said.