Independent Minds, Working Together
Westlake

Westlake students from The College of Wooster's Class of 2013 are (from left) Lee McKinstry, Meredith Eyre, Kim Schmitz, Alexa Norris, Mike Chido, Julie Kendall, and Ashle Williams.

 

High School Classmates Reflect on Transformational Experiences at Wooster

Seven seniors from Westlake look back at the past four years and its impact on their lives

May 9, 2013 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — No one knows for sure how seven graduates from Westlake High School’s Class of 2009 wound up at The College of Wooster, but all seven agree on one thing — it was not preplanned.

Julie Kendall, Lee McKinstry, Meredith Eyre, Kim Schmitz, Alexa Norris, Ashle Williams, and Mike Chido, knew each other in high school, but they did not choose to come to Wooster en masse.

“We hung out together (in high school) and had a lot of the same classes, but we didn’t talk much about coming to Wooster,” said Lee McKinstry, an English major. “It just sort of happened.”

On May 13, they will reunite one more time when Wooster holds its 143rd commencement ceremony, and at some point during the celebration, those seven students will likely reflect on the past four years and how it transformed their lives.

“Wooster opened me up to a lot of things I never thought would interest me,” said Norris, also an English major, who had become disenchanted with the college-search process, but found the small classes and friendly atmosphere at Wooster to be just right. “The people here encouraged me to feel comfortable in pursuing the things I wanted to pursue — like poetry — and it forced me to become seriously well rounded.”

Kendall, who was the first to commit, had visited “a ton of schools,” but said Wooster “felt like home” because the people made her feel “safe.” Turns out, her initial impressions were spot on. “Wooster really brought me out of my shell,” she said. “It has been a safe place where I could meet people, join groups, and develop new perspectives on the world.”

Eyre, a biology major, had a similar experience. “Wooster helped me to realize how much more there is to see in the world,” she said. “Being able to visit a third-world country (Ecuador) forced me to re-examine many of my culturally ingrained perspectives. At Wooster, I’ve been encouraged to explore many different ways of thinking.”

Indeed, off-campus study was a major component of the Wooster experience for most of these students. In addition to Ecuador, Eyre went to Trinidad and Tobago for research; Kendall studied in Copenhagen; Schmitz, who minored in German, spent a semester in Berlin; and McKinstry visited the Czech Republic.

Most importantly, Wooster prepared these seven “Westlakers” for their next step in life, and while each will be focusing on their future plans, they are also keenly aware of the value of serving others — another staple of the Wooster experience.

Chido, a chemistry major, will be attending the University of Pittsburgh in the fall to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry, with plans to focus on renewable energy in an effort “to make life a little better for others.” Eyre will take what she calls a “definitive gap year” to explore “more of what’s out in the world” and look for humanitarian service opportunities to help “make a difference.” Schmitz, a communication sciences and disorders major, will be going to the University of Washington for its graduate program in medical speech-language pathology — a field she says she never would have discovered had she not come to Wooster — to help people with swallowing difficulties and language impairments.

Meanwhile, Kendall, a sociology major, is hoping to work for a social research firm; Norris is considering a possible career as a booking agent, something she became interested in as a result of her position as president of the Wooster Activities Crew (WAC), which brings artists, comedians, dancers, and other entertainers to campus; McKinstry will return to the Czech Republic to teach English as a Fulbright Scholar in the fall; and Williams, a studio art major who will graduate in December because she had to take a semester off as a junior, is intent on entering the field of marketing as a graphic artist and hopes to work in London or New York City.

Although they came from the same high school, each of the seven students found a different pathway to Wooster, and each will take a different way out, but all seven acknowledge the deep impression that the past four years has made on them.

“I would not have chosen the career path I chose without Wooster,” said Schmitz. “The (communication sciences and disorders) program here is phenomenal. This was definitely the right choice for me. I am really glad I came (to Wooster). Now I am ready to move from a small college to a very large university.”

McKinstry was also changed in ways that surprised her. “I became obsessed with Russian literature and culture after taking a class with Yuri Corrigan (assistant professor of Russian and German Studies),” she said. “That experience shaped my trajectory. I also appreciated the fact that there was an openness to taking other classes outside of my major. I really felt nurtured here, but at the same time free to explore whatever I wanted to explore.”

Chido reflected on the enormous growth he has experienced during the past four years. “I knew I wanted to be a chemistry major, but I didn’t know why,” he said. “Wooster helped me to answer that question with its small classes, excellent faculty, challenging upper-level courses, and the opportunity to present research at national meetings. All of this helped me to expand my horizons more than I ever thought it would.”

Perhaps the most profoundly affected of all was Williams, who will not receive her diploma on May 13, but will be there to share the joy with her classmates. “Wooster has challenged me every step of the way,” she said. “It showed me how to become a stronger person, to stand up for myself, and to express my inner voice, which had been silent for far too long.”