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Alumni Return to Share College Experiences with Students

Alumni Day 2020 in December was virtual, but the advice was real world. 

Recent Loy Norrix and Kalamazoo Central grads still visited their alma maters to impart their newfound wisdom on younger students in the annual tradition. 

Julia Kemple-Johnson, a 2018 Central graduate, joined Haley Palmquist, a 2020 grad, in Rex Hafer’s KC Advanced Placement government class. Kemple-Johnson will graduate from Michigan State University this year and is currently applying to law schools. She talked about her thesis on the commodification of privacy in the digital age. 

“My mind is blown right now,” said Hafer, who said he’s always impressed with the accomplishments of former students on Alumni Day. 

Palmquist, who is a student at Central Michigan University, said her dream has always been to study meteorology. Her only challenge was finding a minor to pair with that, and she finally settled on computer science. 

Palmquist and KempleJohnson both applauded students for taking advantage of Advanced Placement classes, which they felt helped them prepare for the rigors of college study. 

The women also both suggested that students consider checking out the residential college experience. 

Residential colleges group students with like interests and areas of study which helps create a sense of community on a large campus, they said. 

KC choir teacher Theresa Williams-Johnson hosted graduate Madison Van Natter (2017), who is in her senior year at MSU. VanNatter said she never thought she’d be spending her senior year online during a pandemic, but her college professors have done a good job working with the students to make learning possible, she said. 

“The teachers have been very understanding and are offering way more office hours to make sure students are able to get everything that they can out of the classes,” VanNatter said. She warned students to be prepared for more demanding classes and homework loads when they start college and admitted that she struggled her freshman year. 

She became hyper-focused on her classes after that and put more thought into what she wanted to get out of the college experience. 

Like Kemple-Johnson, she’s contemplating law school and has been busy building a resume not just with classes in the James Madison College but with student organizations such as Model U.N. and Moot Court. 

Finally, while she always knew she was interested in law, her brother started in aerospace engineering before realizing it wasn’t a good fit. He is now a music major. 

“My brother was brave enough to change,” and he’s much happier now, she said. “Never be scared to change your major. Don’t let someone dictate your way through college.” 

Aiyanna Berry (2020), a political science major with a criminal justice minor at Wayne State University, told Williams-Johnson’s class that she didn’t understand how expensive college would be — even with The Promise. 

She encouraged students to explore every scholarship and financial aid opportunity. 

“The hard work is so worth it if you can walk out of college debt-free,” Berry said. 

Western Michigan University student Laura Worline (2017) visited Loy Norrix journalism teacher Tisha Pankop’s class and encouraged students to use their college experience to develop independence and make new friends. 

She lived on campus her first year and, while living on campus is a great way to make new friends and try new experiences, she realized that she enjoys her own space. Now, she lives in the Vine neighborhood by herself. 

“It’s a good way to figure out how to feed yourself and do your laundry and just manage yourself,” said Worline, who is studying public and nonprofit administration. She said the past year was definitely a challenge. She, like other students, has been feeling screen fatigue, where every day becomes part of “one big day.” 

While time management is important in high school and college in general, it’s been especially key during the pandemic, because it helps provide structure to her day. She gets up and works between 9 a.m. and noon, breaks for lunch, goes to her part-time job, and comes back to finish her studies in the afternoon. Her laptop is shut by 7 p.m. each night. 

“Everyone has to find their own niche for time management,” she said. 

At Loy Norrix, Adam Dorstewitz (2018) and Joanna Yiu (2015) visited Ryan Allen’s class to talk about their experiences at Kalamazoo College and MSU, respectively, and to encourage students to make the most of their time in high school. 

Dorstewitz, who hopes to become a sports agent, said his one big regret about high school was that he didn’t get more involved in extracurriculars. He attended Norrix and KAMSC and was focused on his academics, as well as playing baseball and tennis. 

“If I had to go back I would involve myself in more things. I wasn’t that diverse in terms of what I did,” he said. “I wish I’d spent more time in forensics. If you have a bunch of friends in a club, go spend time with them. You won’t get that back.” 

Yiu said she was a member of National Honor Society and PeaceJam, and played soccer for Norrix for several years. High school should be about more than studying — for your own personal enjoyment and because colleges now acknowledge that they prefer well-rounded students. 

“They want to see that you have interests,” Yiu said. “Character shows more about a person than a GPA.”