Alumni Offer Advice & Wisdom to Columbia High Students at ‘Grads Return’

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The great annual tradition of “Grads Return” returned to Columbia High School on January 5, with dozens of alumni on winter break from colleges and universities around the world serving as panelists in the virtual sessions.

Current CHS 11th and 12th graders were able to chose among numerous sessions across three periods to get advice and ask questions of the CHS graduates.

Topics included: Adjusting to College, Attending College Abroad, Choosing a College, Choosing a Major, HBCUs, Life as a Student Athlete, Attending a U.S. Military Academy, Reducing Anxiety During the Application Process, Changing Majors/Changing Schools, Being a Commuter Student, and Taking a Gap Year, among many others.

“Columbia High School is so special because of the great traditions we have here. One example is the Grads Return program when we invite back recent graduates and they share their knowledge with our current upperclassmen,” CHS Principal Frank Sanchez told Village Green.

“The panelists were just incredible and they came from so many different colleges and universities across the country!” enthused Sanchez. “I also want to thank our students who asked such great questions. Finally, we all need to thank the H&SA and the faculty for organizing these panels and moderating the sessions. We can’t wait to run it again next year.”

Grads Return was founded in 2009-2010 by CHS science teacher Allan Tumolillo (now retired) with the aim of bringing recent CHS graduates to the high school to share their experiences with current CHS students.

Tumolillo told Village Green in 2014 that the idea of Grads Return isn’t about the typical nostalgia of alumni programs. Rather, it is “to help build community between our students and those who have moved on to college” and to “have the grads feel responsibility to help the students here.”

Kiarah Saint-Felix of the CHS Class of 2022 certainly feels that responsibility. As a current freshman at Montclair State University, she shared her experience with CHS students during the “Being a Commuter Student” panel. Saint-Felix also generously shared her advice with Village Green:

“As a commuter student, college life looks a bit different,” said Saint-Felix. “In my own experience and the experiences of other students who commute. It’s harder to get involved on campus. Though most colleges host events throughout the semester to help new students get acclimated to their new environment. Students who live on campus have immediate access to many events and opportunities as soon as they leave their dorm, whereas Commuter students are often at a disadvantage because after class they usually go home to tend to other responsibilities.”

She added, “My advice to incoming college freshmen who plan on commuting was to spend as much time on campus as possible. Whether it’s attending school sponsored events, joining clubs/sports  or spending time in the library studying. Maximize your opportunities to make those life long connections and friendships that will support you throughout your college experience. In addition to that I recommended getting to school early (this is the key to a peaceful stress free day before classes lol). For students who may have classes that start in the afternoon, getting to school early will ensure that you can find a parking spot and give yourself enough time to count for traffic, road closures, etc. It may even give you some time to allow you to work on assignments you may not have gotten to the night before. All that to say, as a commuter your college experience will be what you make of it. Reach out to your advisors and professors to utilize any and all resources available on and off campus!”


Above is a screenshot of the Transferring Schools/Changing Majors panel moderated by Principal Frank Sanchez. The panelists were Jordan Castellani, Maxwell Parlin and Marcus Wright.

Another panel moderated by Principal Sanchez was on Engineering. The panelists were Isaac Shiftic, Devin Wiggins, Christina Wright and Gabi Ewing.

MAC/Annex Director Marcia Hicks and Asst. Principal Terry Woolard were panelists for Black Greek Societies session.

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