Alumni Return to Guide Poughkeepsie Seniors

POUGHKEEPSIE – Aida Hernandez didn’t know what to expect at college.

As a teen living in Oaxaca, Mexico, she had tried to gain an understanding by looking up videos of college students giving advice on YouTube.

But, after transferring to Poughkeepsie High School for her senior year, she attended a panel discussion the school organized featuring recent Poughkeepsie graduates sharing their college experiences.

“This gave me more of an idea of college in New York,” Hernandez said. “It really helped.”

That was a year ago. Now a student at Dutchess Community College, Hernandez was one of nine Poughkeepsie graduates who returned last week and spoke to roughly 250 seniors for the latest edition of the annual panel.

“I really liked the experience, being able to talk to the seniors and giving them an idea of how college is,” Hernandez said.

Kelly Semexant, college readiness and workforce education counselor, has organized the event each of the last three years.

“The whole reason why we do this is to get the current seniors to understand the transition from, specifically, Poughkeepsie High School to college,” she said. “Our panelists were so well-spoken and so real with the students. They gave the students their honest advice, honest opinions.”

Semexant in advance of the panel sends a survey out to the senior class to learn what they most want to know from the alumni and shape her questions. Many of the students wanted to know about the dorm experience and having a roommate.

She said 2023 graduate Marvin Juarez-Espinoza, who is now at Ithaca College, gave good advice on the subject: “You don’t have to be best friends with your roommate. You have to set boundaries, set expectations early, and if it turns out they’re someone you become good friends with, it’s great. A lot of times, it doesn’t happen like that.”

Most of the panel said the thing they would have done differently leading up to college is pursue more scholarship opportunities. The high school works to make sure students are aware of all avenues for scholarships and financial aid that may be available to them – a rundown of scholarships through the school district is available in Issue No. 58 Vol. 5 of the Superintendent’s Brief – and Semexant each Wednesday is available in the library for drop-in help on applications. Semexant said 12th-grade teachers often bring full classes to the library just for such help.

Semexant said she thinks the subject of scholarships “resonated more hearing it from someone who just went through it.” She said the day after the Tuesday panel more than 50 students showed up for help with scholarship applications.

Junior Hill, who is in his first year at Dutchess Community College said he advised the seniors, “it’s not wrong to not know what you want to do in life, yet. It will come to you, eventually.”

Hill is studying physics, but said he’s interested in technology, art, gaming, “I’m balancing all that and figuring out what I want to do.”

Hernandez said she was happy to give back to Poughkeepsie, which she said “gave me a lot of opportunities” like joining clubs and the pre-college help she received from Semexant.

As a panelist herself, she said “I kept telling the students, time management is really important when you get to college. Not even in college, in high school it’s important.”

Semexant next year would like to open the event to juniors so they, too, can get a jump on understanding college better. Each panelist was given a certificate of appreciation as a thank you.

“These are friends with the students, they were in classes with the students, this is the next stage of the students’ lives,” she said, “so they really took it to heart.”

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