With one semester of college under her belt, Amy Rogalski knows just what to tell Northeast High underclassmen: It'll be better and worse than you think.

A year ago, the freshman at St. Mary's College was sitting just where her listeners will sit Jan. 9, hearing recent graduates return to the high school to talk about their experiences in a long-term program the school dubs the "Return of the Natives."

Next week, the young woman from Pasadena will be the one passing on bits of painfully acquired wisdom.

"Most of what I heard was true, but you don't comprehend it as much until you're actually in the situation," Rogalski says.

The school invites the graduates to speak during a school assembly and to parents in an evening meeting. They also use the time to remind local businesses how much their contributions to the school's Eagle scholarship fund helped the students mkeit to college.

"Most of the students coming

back received scholarship money, and this helps the businesses know where their money has gone," says Suzanne Kauffman, a school guidance counselor.

The school raised more than $4,000 from contributions to Eagle last year, Kauffman says.

In its third year, the program has received donations from such local businesses as 7-Eleven, Goodyear tire, Pasadena Rental and Lucky's Convenience store.

The money helps send students to colleges from Baltimore to New York, Kauffman says.

"Then we havethem come back and give a sense of what college really is," she says. "Both parents and students get a much better handle of what it's like from people who've been there."

A scholarship committee awards money to students who apply based on academic achievement and need.

Rogalski, 18, is one of 12 students returning to speak in the program.

"Once you're actually at college, you say, 'Oh my God, they'reright!' You ARE studying every day. You fall behind and you ARE dead. And it's a lot more serious than high school."

The freedom of home and high school was more exciting than she'd imagined. But the corresponding responsibility was harder, too, Rogalski says.

"There's nobody there to say you must do your work. But if you don't, you're the one it hurts."

Rogalski says she learned much academically, including pondering a major in education for the hearing impaired. But the biggest lesson has been insight about people.

"You have a roommate you've never met, and you have to learn to get along with. I learned a lot about compromise," she says.

In the first month, every time she would attempt to study, her roommate would have people over to the dorm room.

"It's really tough. When I wanted to study, she didn't. We had to coordinate that."

But she and her roommate became friends, and she counts her blessings that she had a fairly easy person to live with.

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