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Graduates keep economy in mind as they pursue passions
West Hall High School graduate Kacie Smith is going to college at Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles to become a nurse. She wants to become a medical missionary. - photo by Tom Reed

After turning their tassels, many high school graduates turn their gaze to the future.

And with a shaky economy stretching out before them, some are starting college by choosing their majors carefully, looking for specialties that can help them land a secure job down the road.

West Hall High School graduate Jaimie King said he's following his heart while pursuing a practical career. He said he's aware the decisions he makes now as a student will affect him long after school is over.

"It's been kind of hard to see generations above us losing jobs," King said. "We need to have a job that's going to be able to pay the bills but is also something we love doing. You've got to do something you love because you're going to be doing it for the rest of your life."

That's why King has decided to major in premedical studies at Oglethorpe University. He said he hopes to attend medical school and become an orthopedic doctor.

Gainesville High School guidance counselor Kay Holleman said she tries to steer students toward their passions but also tries to give them a dose of good sense in their college quest.

"We encourage them to follow what their dreams are, but we try to bring some reality into it, too," she said. "If they want to major in an area they're passionate in, like drama, that's great and we encourage that, but we also suggest they minor in something else to fall back on."

West Hall High School guidance counselor Terri Ryan said many students who had not planned to attend college in previous years have changed their minds after seeing so many adults lose their jobs in the past year. She said students are realizing a college degree is vital to a successful life after high school.

Ryan said she helps local students discover a career path that's right for them by guiding them through their schools' Career Cruising online program. The program features a career test to determine which occupations best fit students' skills and interests.

She said by 10th grade, all Hall County students should have taken the test. Ryan said West Hall's health care sciences program also guides many students into the medical field.

West Hall health care sciences teacher Debbie King said the program is in several Hall County high schools and is expanding to West Hall Middle, Chestatee Middle and Lanier Career Charter Academy this fall.

"We want to promote health care to the kids because we were finding they didn't know enough about it," she said.

Before teaching at West Hall High, Debbie King was a pediatric nurse at the Atlanta Children's Hospital.

She said the health care sciences program consists of three classes and possibly a hands-on internship that introduces students to nursing, medicine and emergency services.

While the economy is in flux, King said medical field occupations are typically always in high demand. Although it takes a great mind and a lot of hard work, West Hall graduate Kacie Smith said she's up for the challenge. She begins nursing school at Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles this fall.

Smith said she spent the past three summers on mission trips in the Philippines and has her heart set on becoming a medical missionary, and statistics showed there was a need for medical professionals in Georgia.

"All these statistics are saying by the time I graduate from college there will be a lot of openings in health care," Smith said. "... I really feel like this is what I'm being called to do."

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