On March 16, three recent graduates of Paonia High School who now attend West Point Military Academy, Harvard University, and Colorado School of Mines, addressed the student body and offered their perspectives and advice.
"Our classes teach critical thinking, above everything else," said Drewe Lee, an engineering student at Mines. Lee elaborated on how this skill is vital to all disciplines at the collegiate level.
Lee, along with Harvard freshman Chase Park and West Point cadet Tristan Littlejohn, expounded on the importance of critical thinking, on being able to "think outside the box," and to "think from varying perspectives" about whatever they're reading/studying. Littlejohn, who is studying engineering, said "that critical thinking carries over into everything, even my world of math and science."
"All I do in nearly every one of my classes is read a piece, and analyze it in different ways or from varying perspectives," Park added. "And I can't tell you how important it is to be able to do that well. I have to write all the time, so the (advanced placement) English classes are so important to that base."
"And all the homework for your AP classes, or your college classes is exactly how it is in college," Littlejohn said. "In college English, I had to work really hard and still didn't quite hit the grade that I wanted at times: that's exactly what college is like."
"And on that note," Park added, "you have to be self-motivated in college, because you're paying to go there, and your professors don't necessarily care if you do what you're supposed to do, like your teachers do here. You have to go to the webpage, for example, and get your homework if you want to do it, if you want to know what you need to know. That's your job, and you have to want to go get it done. It's hard, but that's how your world is, and you have to do it."
"Let's just talk about time management," and setting priorities, said Lee, who elaborated on his day-to-day management of tasks at school. "I get up at 5:15 a.m. on some days, and 6:20 on other days," he said, referencing his workout schedules that are required in addition to his academics.
This discussion offered a perfect transition for Littlejohn and Park to elaborate on their worlds, too: "Yes, time management is vital," said Littlejohn, noting specifically his need, as an ex-high-school-athlete, for exercise, and how he manages class time, homework load, and his desire to lift weights to maintain a balance. All three men agreed that their training as accomplished student-athletes at PHS has carried over to their collegiate levels: they all currently work to build exercise into their schedules, and manage their academic work loads well as a result.
"You won't last if you don't have work ethic and the ability to manage your time," Littlejohn said.
Park agreed. "There's time to have fun, too, but you have to make choices; you have to make time for everything."
"Don't be intimidated by all of this talk of hard work, though," Littlejohn cautioned with a smile. "Even at West Point, I have lots of fun. All of this can be a lot of fun. It's just important to prioritize and make good choices. My education is worth $400,000," which he will pay back in service after several years.
All three ended the discussion on a high note, offering their perspective that PHS prepared them, that the AP and college classes prepared them. Though it's hard, they all agreed that the rigors they're encountering are being conquered so far because of their experiences at PHS.