Graduation 2017: What Lies Ahead


Article Contributed by
Cortney Linnecke

Every year, at the dawn of summer, high school seniors across the country file onto stages to perform the ritual of graduation. The whole ceremony is really quite simple: first, students clone themselves in slippery gowns and angled caps. They sit in rows and fan themselves with programs as they listen (or pretend to listen) to speech after speech. Then they walk across the stage, shake a few hands, and claim diplomas emblazoned with their names. At the end, if they’re lucky, their school lets them throw their hats in the air to celebrate.

In practice, the whole affair is rather uneventful, even mundane. But in principle, graduation is much more than just a ceremony. For every student onstage, graduation marks the beginning of the rest of their lives. Those young men and women have accomplished something great within their school walls, but now they are walking out the doors in the hopes of accomplishing something even greater.

This week, hundreds of students across Chautauqua County will make the same trip across the graduation stage. For each student, it will mean something different. And for each student, that trip will end in a different destination, whether it be college, boot camp, or the first day on a new job.

Read on to learn about the world that 2017 high school graduates are entering and the various post-graduation paths that have risen up to meet them.

One of the most obvious options for young adults after high school is to pursue higher education. The benefits of going to college are oft-cited and highly touted: learn a specialized field, find a better job, experience the social life, and ultimately, make more money.

The last argument certainly has some merit, in Chautauqua County especially. A recent American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau measured the earnings of Chautauqua County citizens from various educational backgrounds. The study, which was conducted over a five-year period ending in 2015, found that employees with bachelor degrees earned nearly $12,000 more a year than employees who had only graduated high school. Of course, the study also supported the merit of a high school diploma: it found that high school graduates earn an average of $10,000 more annually than high school drop-outs in Chautauqua County.

“At Southwestern, [we] develop students’ potential for positive contributions to society,” said Robin Kayner, a guidance counselor at Southwestern High School. “Obtaining a high school diploma creates opportunities and sets the stage for life-long learning.”

Life-long learning does seem to be a priority for most Chautauqua County residents: the same U.S. Census Bureau survey also showed that 88.2 percent of Chautauqua’s residents had graduated high school and that 54.7 percent had attended, if not completed, some amount of college.

Of course, attending college may suddenly be more feasible for many of Chautauqua County’s high school seniors, thanks to the passing of the Excelsior Scholarship earlier this year. In June, lawmakers approved Governor Andrew Cuomo’s tuition-free college initiative, making New York the first state ever to approve free tuition for middle class students at two- and four-year public colleges. This scholarship would apply to county schools SUNY Fredonia (the school of choice for almost 60 percent of college students in Chautauqua County) and Jamestown Community College (35 percent), but not Jamestown Business College (5 percent), since it is a for-profit, private institution.

Although some have voiced concern or curiosity regarding what free tuition may mean for private colleges, rates of overall college attendance, and quality of education, Kayner said it is too early to make any judgments.
“We have been educating students and families of the opportunity [of free tuition],” she said. “Since it just rolled out, we won’t really know the impact until next year.”

For students who are attending college in Chautauqua in the fall, they will be most likely to study one of the county’s most popular majors: business administration, management, or general psychology, according to a poll conducted by Data USA.

The military is another post-graduation avenue that is consistently popular among high school seniors. This year is no different. Multiple schools across the county are sending seniors off to boot camp, including Southwestern, who has one senior committed to attend the prestigious West Point Military Academy.

“Not everyone wants to go to college after high school, and some simply cannot afford [it],” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Shanna Thomas. SSgt. Thomas has recruited seven local seniors to the Air Force just this year. “The armed forces give graduates the opportunity to learn a skill in a field that interests them while earning a steady income and other benefits.”

The armed forces are popular for other reasons as well: they offer advancement opportunity, the chance to travel, and access to further education through the GI Bill program, which helps pay for college tuition. On top of all that, recruits also join a courageous and respected rank of men and woman dedicated to serving the nation.

“In my opinion, the choice to serve shows the maturity level of these recruits,” Ssgt. Thomas said. “There are many lessons and life skills learned while serving. You challenge yourself from the moment you take the oath of enlistment and throughout your career. Discipline and independence are learned…and each service member will learn valuable skills that will transfer to the civilian work sector.”

While many graduates are jetting off to college, and others to the armed forces, still others are settling down right here in Chautauqua County to start work directly out of high school.

There are several avenues graduates have taken, or may take, to secure a job. Some have attended vocational training sites such as BOCES, Cassadaga Job Corps, or Chautauqua Works. Many of these institutions feature hands-on training in trades such as carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, culinary arts, nursing, and cosmetology. In addition, they often offer career development programs and services to help secure employment after completion of program training.

While this sort of training is incredibly valuable when it comes to landing a job straight out of high school, it is by no means necessary. Some of Chautauqua County’s most common jobs, according to a poll conducted by Data USA, include employment in offices, the food and serving sector, and production and transportation. Many of these jobs require only a high school degree or its equivalency.

Then, of course, there is always the farming and agriculture sector of Chautauqua County. Some students may choose to return to a family farm to carry on the business, and in doing so, join approximately 1,500 other Chautauqua County citizens who make their living on agriculture, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Gap Year
Finally, one of the most overlooked post-graduation options for high school seniors is the decision to not choose any option at all. Although the numbers opting to take a year or two off are small, there are always a few students who choose not to pursue college, a job, or the military. These students instead embark upon what is usually called a “gap year.”

During a gap year, young adults typically take time to travel, learn about new cultures, and develop a new worldview. Many students do so with the intention of returning to get a job or enter college the following year. The break between high school and college is generally considered an ideal time to take a gap year, as students have little commitment or responsibility at a young age, no debt, and a craving to develop independence.

“If a student can afford to do it, studying abroad is an excellent way to learn more about another culture, to begin to establish independence, and to develop a global citizenship perspective,” said Gary Padak, President of the Rotary Club of Jamestown. “In summary, it is a way to enrich one’s life.”

The local Rotary Club is one avenue that helps students plan gap years. Through the Rotary Youth Exchange program, students travel to foreign countries, attend local schools for a year, and live with host families. In doing so, they get to see a bit of the world, learn a new language and culture, and develop lifelong friendships and leadership skills.

While the Rotary Club of Jamestown does not have any recent graduates preparing to take a gap year in 2017 (although they do have several high school juniors preparing to exchange), that does not mean that there aren’t any graduates planning to take time off to travel. After all, a gap year does not have to be planned by a non-profit or an institution. A gap year is something students can plan and prepare for themselves – it could be as extravagant as backpacking across Europe, or as modest as road tripping the continental U.S.

And in an increasingly connected and globalized world, traveling experience and intercultural communication skills are traits that are becoming increasingly valued by employers and colleges alike. A gap year is a post-graduation avenue that is sure not only to open students’ minds, but also to make them more competitive employee candidates in a difficult economy.

So this week, when seniors all over Chautauqua County are walking across stages and shaking their diplomas triumphantly in the air, they may be venturing into the unknown; they may be following a conventional or nontraditional path; they may be scared, or excited, or both. But one thing is certain: no matter where they’re headed or what dreams they plan to accomplish, the high schools of Chautauqua County have prepared them well for all the challenges and adventures that lie ahead. And of course, the Jamestown Gazette wishes nothing but congratulations and continued success to the local high school graduates of 2017.

Chautauqua Lake High School

Commencement for Class of 2017
Thursday, June 22, 7pm
Chautauqua Lake Central School Auditorium
Number of Graduates: 89

“Just remember, you can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Clymer High School

Commencement for Class of 2017
Thursday, June 22, 7pm
Clymer Central School Student Performance Center
Number of Graduates: 34

Eisenhower High School

Commencement for Class of 2017
Friday, June 16, 6pm
gymnasium at EMHS
Number of Graduates: 76

Falconer High School

Commencement for Class of 2017
Thursday, June 22, 7pm
Reg Lenna Civic Center
Number of Graduates: 72

Frewsburg High School

Commencement for Class of 2017
Friday, June 23, 7pm
Frewsburg HS Auditorium
Number of Graduates: 55

Jamestown High School

Commencement for Class of 2017
Thursday, June 22, 7pm
Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater
Number of Graduates: 318

Maple Grove High School

Commencement for Class of 2017
Friday, June 23, 8pm
Fred J. Gerber Auditorium
Number of Graduates: 58

Panama High School

Commencement for Class of 2017
Friday, June 23
Panama Central Auditorium
Number of Graduates: 45

Panama is a small school and community, but it is full of smart,
talented, caring people and is a wonderful place to live.
We will miss the Class of 2017!  Congratulations!

Randolph High School

Commencement for Class of 2017
Friday, June 23, 7pm
Randolph High School Auditorium
Number of Graduates: 80

Senior Class Officers
President: Annalise Boyer
Vice-President: Rhiannon Rodunardt
Secretary: Jordan Lux
Treasurer: Austin Myers & Tyler Liskow

Sheffield High School

Commencement for Class of 2017
Friday, June 16, 6pm
gymnasium at EMHS
Number of Graduates: 44

Sherman High School

Commencement for Class of 2017
Friday, June 23, 6:30pm
John Butler Auditorium Sherman Central
Number of Graduates: 45

Southwestern High School

Commencement for Class of 2017
Friday, June 23, 7pm
Reg Lenna Center for the Arts
Number of Graduates: 110

Top 10 Students

  1. Alyssa Carlson
  2. Megan Powers
  3. Katie Janowsky
  4. Clayton Hanson
  5. Taylor Dewey
  6. Andrew Komula
  7. Chad Lillie
  8. Jared Yaggie
  9. Madison Pantall
  10. Adrianna Bell

Warren High School

Commencement for Class of 2017
Friday, June 16, 6:30pm
The Struthers Library Theater
Number of Graduates: 157

Youngsville High School

Commencement for Class of 2017
Friday, June 16, 7 PM
Youngsville High School
Number of Graduates: 74


We do not remember days, we remember moments.
– Cesare Pavese

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Cortney Linnecke is a freelance writer and sports enthusiast from Stow, NY. As a high school student, Cortney approached athletics as if it were a buffet. She sampled as many sports as her school would allow and ended up lettering in most of them, including softball, track, boys' golf and her game of choice, soccer. At SUNY Geneseo, Cortney traded soccer cleats for ice skates on the women's club hockey team. When not busy practicing slap shots, Cortney earned bachelor degrees in English and international relations, and made time to write. Her work has been featured in SUNY Geneseo’s newspaper The Lamron, The Chautauquan Daily and Geneseo's academic research journal, The Proceedings of GREAT Day. She is delighted to become a contributing writer at the Jamestown Gazette.