BEYOND GO-ON: Four young adults talk about their diverse paths after high school

For Idaho’s graduating seniors, life’s next steps are as unique as they are — and college is just one of many options.

We talked with four Idaho graduates about their college and career plans, and they’re all going in different directions.

One student will go to a four-year college this fall, one to a two-year college, one will take a gap year and one 2018 graduate never went to college — and doesn’t have plans to.

Each of them has a goal, and is taking their own path to achieving it.

For DaLacie Scott, financial security matters more than fulfilling someone else’s timeline

DaLacie Scott wants to go to college — but not if it jeopardizes her bank account.

The Malad graduate has known since sophomore year exactly what she wants to do — become an English teacher. She wants to inspire students the way her 10th grade English teacher inspired her.

DaLacie Scott

But Scott is diverging from the traditional path — instead of heading to college right away and racking up debt for her future career, she’s holding out for a year, or until she can build up enough savings to pay for school herself.

She made the tough decision during her senior year of high school. She had planned on going to Idaho State University in the fall, but didn’t receive any scholarships, due to medical issues that compromised her eligibility. After months of stress over finances and timing, Scott realized that she can create her own timeline.

“It was a hard decision to make because I wanted to go to college,” Scott said. “I don’t want to be that person who takes a gap year and 10 years down the line is still taking a gap year. It wasn’t a quick decision, I thought about it for a while and this is just the best decision right now.”

“I’m not taking a gap year because I’m tired of school and I just want to sleep in. This is to help me get more prepared, so that when I do go to college, I’m ready.” – DaLacie Scott, Malad

Scott, who currently works at Subway, said she’ll continue working in the food service industry until she has enough money to pay for school. She’s fine with taking out loans, but she wants to be able to pay them off as she goes — rather than leaving college with decades of debt in front of her.

When Scott announced her decision to her family, they were surprised. Her mom offered to take out loans so Scott could head to ISU immediately. But for Scott, who will be the first in her family to go to college, it was important that she figured it out on her own — and her family respected that.

“I don’t come from a wealthy family, there’s no way that I can just pull money out of thin air,” Scott said. “But I want to pay for my own college since it’s me who’s wanting to go. Now that I’m graduated, I can just focus on working toward my goal.”

Scott knows there will be people doubting her, but she’s confident in her own decision. She wants people to know that she’s driven — she knows exactly what she wants, and how she wants to get there.

“I’m not taking a gap year because I’m tired of school and I just want to sleep in,” Scott said. “This is to help me get more prepared, so that when I do go to college, I’m ready.”

Natalie Mireles says community college is her perfect first step toward success

Natalie Mireles’ Hispanic roots helped shape not only what she wants to be, but where she wants to go to college.

Natalie Mireles

After helping out in her family’s local shop for years — and watching her parents work hard to support her — Mireles found a passion for serving Latino communities, and a yearning for higher education. She realized she wanted to continue her family’s legacy by becoming an immigration lawyer.

“I’m going to be the first in my family to be able to go to college,” the Gooding graduate said. “(My family) influenced me a whole bunch to be able to do something with myself and not have to work like they do.”

This fall, Mireles will start at the College of Southern Idaho, a Twin Falls-based two-year college with an off-campus location in Gooding. CSI is Idaho’s first designated Hispanic Serving Institution, with over 25% Hispanic undergraduate enrollment.

Some have cast doubts that CSI is the best place to start a career in law, Mireles said. But the school is her perfect choice.

“There’s been a whole bunch of support, but there’s also been doubts, but we’re not going to satisfy everyone in this world. You can only really satisfy yourself and what you want to do. And I’m doing that.” – Natalie Mireles, Gooding

During high school, Mireles enrolled in Latinos in Action — a dual credit class at CSI, powered in part by a Utah nonprofit — and was inspired.

The class empowers Latino youth to lead and strengthen their communities. For Mireles, that looked like volunteering throughout her town, tutoring elementary students and learning about finances. The class prepared her for life after high school, and fueled her dream of becoming an immigration lawyer — it also helped her get scholarships.

Once she completed the program, Mireles was set on CSI. The college, she says, will give her a good foundation before she eventually transfers to a university. CSI will support her needs and recognize the unique struggles that accompany being a young Latina in Idaho.

Attending CSI will also let her stick close to home, continue work in her family business, and save money for her future schooling.

“There’s been a whole bunch of support, but there’s also been doubts,” said Mireles. “But we’re not going to satisfy everyone in this world. You can only really satisfy yourself and what you want to do. And I’m doing that.”

Hesston Harrison chose an out-of-state college to kickstart his nursing career

As a kid, Malad graduate Hesston Harrison spent a lot of time in the hospital. He’d go to work with his mom — a phlebotomist — and watch her do her part to get patients the help they needed.

That experience, and his own passion for service, inspired the now-teenager to go into the medical field.

“I like helping people,” Harrison said. “I get a little spark when I help people live their best lives.”

During high school, Harrison worked as a certified nursing assistant — a certification he received through his high school. And in the fall, Harrison will head to Weber State University to study nursing.

Hesston Harrison

But the decision wasn’t easy, he said. As a football player, hospital employee and student, he already had trouble juggling his responsibilities. And the stress of deciding his future and facing the real world added even more pressure.

College wasn’t a given, he said. He didn’t always like school, and wasn’t sure if that was really the route he wanted to take — especially when he could progress in the medical field without a degree.

“Let kids make the decisions. Your kid knows what’s best for them only, and no one else does.” – Hesston Harrison, Malad

But he settled on college after conversations with his mom, who helped him see the value of a degree, and Nacona Smith, Malad’s college and career counselor. Smith helped Harrison find the path that best suits him by helping arrange college visits, signing him up for dual credit classes and helping schedule his prerequisites for his first year at college.

Finances also played their own role. Harrison’s dad lives in Utah, so the teenager is able to receive in-state tuition to Weber State. He also received a $9,000 scholarship from the Utah college, along with the local Nell J. Redfield Memorial Hospital Scholarship, Oneida County Ambulance Scholarship, Donald S. and Marjorie May Vaughan Memorial Scholarship.

Harrison is excited for his future, he says. He’s proud that he’s following his dreams — and that he made his own decision.

“Let kids make the decisions,” Harrison said. “Your kid knows what’s best for them only, and no one else does.”

Ethan Gillespie found his own success without a single college class

In second grade, Ethan Gillespie’s teacher asked him about his dream career.

While other students said they wanted to be a cop or a fireman, Gillespie had an unorthodox response: he wanted to go to the Oscars.

The response drew a laugh from his classroom, but Gillespie was serious — and no ridicule could turn him away from his dream. By the time he graduated from Rocky Mountain High School in 2018, he had plans to move to Los Angeles and start acting and modeling full-time.

Ethan Gillespie

When he told friends, family and teachers about his plan, many weren’t supportive.

“I got negative feedback from everyone,” he said. “Constant criticism. But people are always going to tell you what they think you should do, even when you’re doing well. You have to follow your inner compass more than anyone else’s, follow your inner voice.” 

Gillespie made a living acting and modeling until COVID struck in 2020, pushing the then-20-year-old to pursue other options.

Gillespie moved to Salt Lake City during the pandemic, and was hired as a sales development representative for Canopy, a software company. Quickly — and without a college degree — Gillespie was earning a six-figure income.

And on top of his corporate job, Gillespie started two businesses — a photography and videography company and a holistic wellness company. The businesses allowed the Rocky Mountain graduate to earn additional income, and pursue passions that he couldn’t fulfill in the corporate arena.

And Gillespie fulfilled his second-grade dream. In 2019, he attended the Oscars.

“I was in the nosebleeds, but it didn’t matter,” he said. “I couldn’t help but laugh about that interaction in second grade. I don’t feel bad about it anymore.”

Gillespie has never regretted his decision not to go to college. On some days, he’s wondered what his life might be like, but he’s also watched friends struggle with student debt, piles of homework, and limited job searches after getting their degrees. Those are things he doesn’t have to worry about, he says.

Between earning online certificates and real-world work experience, starting his own businesses, and just working with a mentor who has helped him through his career, Gillespie has furthered his education without going to college. He still values a college education, but feels that it isn’t necessary to achieve success.

“You can be educated, just not formally,” he said. 

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber, a former reporter with Ed News that focused on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley.

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