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Three area teens handling senior-year stresses
Students examine final school year at its midpoint
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Andrew Smith is a senior at North Hall High School. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Student Vantage: The Times will follow three students from Hall County through their 2013-14 school year as they make choices as upperclassmen for their futures.

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One year is all that stands between high school seniors and the start of their adult lives.

With the first half of their final year behind them, college hopefuls are trying to make the most of the time they have left.

Seniors have a busy year of applying to colleges and scholarship programs while they maintain good grades and their involvement in extracurricular activities. With so many choices and responsibilities packed into a year, students are learning more than just what’s taught in the classroom, they’re learning unexpected life lessons.

The Times is following three students in Hall County on their unique paths from high school to college and seeing how their choices impact their futures.

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith, a North Hall High School senior, started the year knowing he was in a fortunate but difficult position.

At the start of his junior year, Smith verbally committed to play baseball for Georgia Southern University. But during the summer, Smith received an offer to play football from the Air Force Academy in Colorado.

Smith, who plays quarterback and defensive back for the school’s football team, was surprised by the offer. At 5 feet, 7 inches, he said he doesn’t fit the mold of a typical Division I athlete.

Smith took his time considering the options, praying over the offers. He made up his mind in October.

“I decided to go to the Air Force Academy through a lot of prayer,” Smith said. “I realize that I would have a better future in the Air Force and a lot more benefits coming out of the Air Force. It’s what is best for me, I think.”

Smith said so far, his senior year can be summed up by saying “life’s full of surprises.”

Even when the road seems uncertain, Smith said it’s important to have faith and keep working toward your dreams and realize how important each day is.

“I think senior year is important because these are the times you’ll remember forever,” Smith said. “You have to make the most of the time and live with no regrets. Every day, give it your all, whatever you’re doing. Just keep trying to be the best person you can be.”

Diana Vela

Sometimes opportunity doesn’t knock and students have to work hard and come to terms with disappointment before finding a path that will take them to their dreams.

Diana Vela, a Gainesville High School senior, aims to one day work as a pediatric oncologist.

Vela was born in Mexico but has lived in Georgia for the majority of her life. Last year, she filed for the deferred action for childhood arrivals program, a temporary measure allowing young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children to attain a Social Security number, driver’s license and a job.

As an illegal student, Vela said it’s difficult to find colleges and scholarships that will accept her because of her status but she’ll continue applying.

“What I have learned this year is that people are always going to have complications,” Vela said. “There is always going to be something that will make you lose confidence and you have to have the confidence to fight for what you want.”

Vela spends much of her free time encouraging other Hispanic students to complete their education through the club she founded in her junior year, HOPE, Hispanic Organization Promoting Education.

Vela said her disappointments this year have certainly changed her, but she feels she’s better off for the experience. She’s more aware of herself and her abilities.

“My senior year has prepared me because it’s the year you really get to find yourself,” Vela said. “You get to see yourself in the real world and how you can contribute to your community. I can be a leader and keep pushing myself.”

Harrison Summerour

Being a leader requires a great deal of trust as Riverside Military Academy senior Harrison Summerour has learned.

As the battalion commander for the school year, Cadet Lt. Col. Summerour is in charge of the school’s more than 450 students under the leadership of faculty.

The days are planned out for students at Riverside but Summerour still has to squeeze in time to manage his heavy load of responsibilities.

“Being someone (who) doesn’t like to tell people no, I sometimes have more on my plate than I can actually do,” Summerour said. “You kind of just have to prioritize. I’m getting better at the whole saying no thing. I don’t want quality to suffer. I take pride in my work. Even though I don’t like telling people no, I’d rather say no than give them something sub par.”

Summerour said he can’t be as involved as he would like to be, but it’s OK because he has to trust others are taking care of their responsibilities, too.

Summerour is looking forward to seeing how much more he grows this year and is appreciative for the opportunity to do so.

“This year has been really good so far,” Summerour said. “It’s been more than I expected.”