Graduates delay college to experience real world

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When it comes to getting an education, high school graduates with the means traditionally think college. But some recent Anne Arundel County graduates are taking very different paths in preparing for their futures.

Seventeen-year-old Cal Westergard, a 2005 Annapolis High School graduate, will be packing his bags next month, but he's not heading straight to college. He'll be on his way to Nova Scotia to learn to build boats.

Katherine McEvoy, a 2005 Severna Park High School graduate, reports Sept. 6 to the Military Entrance Processing Station at Fort Meade, where she officially leaves civilian life and becomes a member of the U.S. Air Force. She plans to pursue her "obsession with language."

Another Severna Park graduate, Vittoria DeAngelis, surprised herself when she signed up with the nationwide service organization AmeriCorps*NCCC, or National Civilian Community Corps.

"I always thought it would be 'high school, college, work,'" said DeAngelis, 18, of Stewart's Landing. Since she wasn't sure what she wanted to study in college, she said, "I might as well take a year off, but not a year off from work, doing something that will really benefit me."

Here is a look at the plans of the three recent graduates:

Watery wanderlust

Westergard, who considers himself "a normal teenager, kind of laid-back," likes to skateboard and play his guitar, strumming in musical styles as diverse as Jack Johnson, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Grateful Dead.

But it was living around water all his life, sailing a Sunfish and a Boston Whaler as a kid, that have given the teenager his direction.

He will spend the next couple of years in Tuskett, Nova Scotia, a little village near the port town of Yarmouth, a two-hour ferry ride across the bay from Bar Harbor, Maine. He'll be an apprentice to his father's brother, Dave.

In the shop next to the house that his uncle built, Westergard will learn the art of building custom wooden sailboats.

In a land where a single rope tied to a pier can attract enough sweet black mussels to steam up for dinner, the carpenter and his nephew will continue the boat-centered traditions of maritime Canada.

And Westergard can't wait. This summer the 5-foot-10-inch teen is helping his father, Chris Westergard, an inspector with the Maryland Department of the Environment, put a new roof on the family home.

His mother, Nancy, is a nurse who lives in California; his brother, Jon, is a student at the University of New Haven in Connecticut; and his sister, Kelsey, is 11.

When he's not building, Cal Westergard works at the Great Harvest Bakery, "sometimes at the ovens and other times at the counter."

After a year or two with his uncle, Westergard sees himself going to college for a business degree. In Maryland? Not exactly.

He wants to study in another water-oriented locale: Hawaii. Then he plans to build his own boat and live on it.

"I have one [son] in college and one who wants to be a traveler," said Chris Westergard. "I like the idea that he's pursuing a dream. It's a parent's job to support everything they do, as long as it's not illegal."

Ear for language

When deciding just where she would pursue her "obsession with language," Katie McEvoy, 18, of McKinsey Woods was faced with the high cost of going directly to college or finding another way to finance her education.

"I researched the military," says the 5-foot-6-inch, brown-eyed Texas native. "I liked the Air Force benefits."

McEvoy's father, Roger McEvoy, had served in the U.S. Navy, and she originally considered that branch of service. But when she saw firsthand how hard six months at sea can be through the eyes of her 21-year-old brother, Brian, a Navy petty officer, she decided in favor of the Air Force.

Another factor in her choice was the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., the Air Force's linguistic school. Four years of Spanish and one of German in high school were not enough for the aspiring linguist.

"I really want to learn Arabic because I think it's kind of a pretty language," said McEvoy, whose mother, Sue is a vascular stenographer at the University of Maryland Medical Center. "I like unique languages; Arabic and German appeal to me."

But a part-time job almost changed her academic focus. McEvoy said she gave up one of her favorite pastimes, being on her high school dance team, to work at the Severna Park branch library.

She enjoyed the work so much, she said, she would have considered becoming a librarian if she had not enlisted. After three years at the library, she said she feels as though she'll be leaving a second family when she has to say goodbye in two weeks.

"They're amazing," she said of the library staff. "They understand school comes first. It was a great job to have as a person in high school."

Even for someone with McEvoy's background in language, it's not easy to become an airborne linguist, the rank she will achieve at the end of training, said Staff Sgt. Ken Oberdorf, an Air Force recruiter. While a junior in high school, McEvoy took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Part of the test is a hypothetical language designed to test an applicant's ability to translate, Oberdorf said.

When the test results were tabulated, McEvoy received an invitation from the Air Force. She accepted and signed her enlistment papers March 22, a date she said she'll never forget.

After six weeks of boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, McEvoy will head to California to begin one year of language school. At the end of that time, she will have earned an associate's degree in her language. For each year she is in the service, Oberdorf said, she will earn additional money for college.

The Air Force tries to accommodate an aspiring linguist's language preference, but at this point, McEvoy said, she "has no clue" what language she'll be assigned to study. It depends on need and availability, Oberdorf said.

"As long as it's a language, whatever they put on my plate, I'll take," she said. Another plus: She'll be close enough to visit her brother, who is stationed in California.

Still searching

Vittoria "Tory" DeAngelis is a 5-foot-5-inch, green-eyed athlete who played high school softball and ran cross country and indoor track. She took early dismissal her senior year to study biology and algebra at Anne Arundel Community College. She considered joining the Peace Corps but found out the organization requires a college degree.

Then she learned from a friend about AmeriCorps*NCCC, a federally sponsored organization created in 1993 for 18- to 24-year-olds. The friend had worked with deaf people during her tenure and is now studying at Towson University to become a sign-language interpreter.

The program provides a variety of opportunities, such as tutoring and mentoring young people, running after-school programs, helping to build affordable housing, teaching computer skills, improving the environment by cleaning parks and streams, and working alongside residents after a disaster. It also offers financial incentives for college.

After 10 months of full-time service, plus 75 independent service project hours, members are eligible for nearly $5,000 to continue their education - and the award can be claimed up to seven years after service is completed.

The program appealed to DeAngelis, who has worked for two years at Joe's Seafood in Severna Park. But she was concerned about leaving home because she and her siblings, Nick, 24, and Gina, 20, were still mourning the loss three years earlier of their father, David DeAngelis, a former chief deputy sheriff of Baltimore.

But her mom, Sandra DeAngelis, a technology support technician at George Fox Middle School, said to her, "You have to work all the rest of your life, so do it."

Sandra DeAngelis is proud that her two daughters got jobs and made their own car payments after their father's death. She encouraged her youngest daughter "to go out and experience things; catch a flight to Hawaii. We'll figure out the money when you get back."

DeAngelis leaves for her 10-month tour of duty Sept. 22 at the AmeriCorps campus in Sacramento, Calif. Other campuses are in Charleston, S.C., Denver, Washington, D.C., and Perry Point.

The tightly scheduled acceptance process of paperwork, interviews, medical forms and fingerprinting was an introduction to AmeriCorps' regimented program, which is designed to teach leadership with a strong helping of military discipline.

"It was 'do this within 10 days; do that within 10 days,'" DeAngelis recalled.

In California, members wear regulation shorts and T-shirts, live in a dorm and begin each day with 5:30 a.m. calisthenics. The Sacramento campus has a population of 300 to 400 members, and DeAngelis will work with a team of 10 to 12 others. In addition to lodging, AmeriCorps provides training, health benefits and a weekly living allowance.

AmeriCorps teams are assigned to short-term projects, called Spikes, during which they live off campus. California teams work throughout the West Coast.

As to what she will study in the future, DeAngelis said, "I have no clue, but when I come back, I am definitely going to college."

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