College-bound: Making tough choices

May 24, 2016

Thousands of high school seniors are facing crunch time as they try to make the right choice for college and then find a way to pay for it. WKYC followed two young women, one from the city of Cleveland, one suburban Macedonia, and asked them to share their stories.

With light snow falling on a cold March morning, Cleveland High School senior Tavon Horn is heading to school. The high school senior will walk more than a mile to catch her RTA bus that takes her to “facing history new tech” high school on the city’s near west side. Tavon is rehearsing her senior project presentation.

Her teacher inquires, “What kind of nursing do you want to specialize in?”

Tavon responds, “I want to specialize in registered nursing as far as working with adults, maybe the elderly and maybe a few children.”

Meanwhile, out in suburban Macedonia, Nordonia High School senior Emily Gedeon is getting ready for a big ensemble band performance. An honors student with more than a 4.0 grade average, Emily’s resume is impressive.

“I’m in Band, Science Olympiad, Mock Trial, been a Girl Scout for 13 years, vice president of NHS, Glass Ceiling, Spanish Club and I’ve been a class officer for four years at my high school,” said Emily.

Nordonia counselor Sandra Klein beams when talking about Emily.

“She doesn’t look for recognition, and she doesn’t look for someone to pat her on the back,” said Klein. “Emily just does things because in her mind, that’s what you just supposed to do.”

Because both of Emily’s parents work, dinner time is often late. Her mother, Karen, is a high school media specialist. Her father, Herb, is a corporate director of account systems. They both support Emily’s decision to go to Ohio State University.

“Yes, I know that Emily and we have had some advantages,” said Herb. He added, “So I’d love to not have to pay anything, but on the other hand, if we are able to contribute, then we will contribute.”

To help pay for college, Emily works four days a week as a waitress at Bob Evans during the school year. In two years, she’s saved up $12,000 in wages and tips.

Her manager, Todd Hutchinson, watches her with pride.

“She is just kind of the ideal employee,” Hutchinson added. “She’s never complained once schedule-wise, as far as she’s got to stay over, and somebody has called off and, ‘Hey can you stay over late?’ She says absolutely no problem. And that’s with her school schedule and that’s with tests, papers, everything else she has going on.”

Tavon Horn also works four days a week. With no free bus pass on the weekends, she walks three miles to pull her shift at McDonald’s. In the winter, that can be a long, cold walk.

McDonald’s supervisor Wally Verhosek says he wishes all his employees showed the same drive and discipline as Tavon.

“I tell everybody else if she can be here walking an hour, why can’t you because you missed the bus or you don’t have a ride,” said Verhosek.

Tevon’s mother died two years ago at 65 years old from pancreatic cancer, so she’s currently living with her older sister, Cevonia, who has two young daughters. Tevon’s paycheck helps pay the bills.

Choking back tears, Cevonia sat at the kitchen table.

“I just pray every day that you know they become strong, independent and really don’t have to rely on nobody. But you do have family that have your back and everything and that’s important,” Cevonia said.

Sitting on the back steps near the alley, Tavon shook her head and smiled.

“In our family, there is no sitting around here and be lazy. You are going to go out and get it, and you going to do it, and you going to do it right. For us, there is no sit and lay back.”

Because of her grades and extreme financial hardship, Tavon has already been accepted at five colleges and has been offered a full-ride to Notre Dame College in South Euclid.

Her high school principal, Marc Engoglia, says he is proud of students like Tavon.

“Yes, a student in my school might get a better chance at a grant than a student in the suburbs,” said Engoglia. He added, “But you know what? So what. We’re going to give them that opportunity, and they are going to do some great things.”

Back in Macedonia, Emily Gedeon is facing a tough financial hurdle paying for the cost of Ohio State University.

“With room and board and tuition, it will be about $20,000 or $25,000 a year, so at least $100,000,” said Emily. “And right now I have about $12,000.”

School counselor Sandra Klein said, “Her parents are two working parents, and they don’t meet the definition of ‘financial need,’ so she’s not going to get much. She’s going to get little to nothing because her parents work. They will pay 95 percent of her college education.”

Nordonia principal Casey Wright said he wishes all the good students could get the same amount of financial aid.

“My sense would be that’s not fair for a kid who has achieved at such a high level to take on a $100,000 of debt to take that next step. But that’s the way it is,” Wright said.

Financial planner Kevin Myeroff warns parents not to invade 401(k) plans to pay for their children’s college education.

“Once their retirement is secure,” said Myeroff, “Whatever is extra they can use for the child. But the greatest gift a parent can give their child is to not be a burden on them in their retirement. And that’s what parents have to work on first.”

Tavon Horn is now planning to begin her studies at Notre Dame next fall.

“I don’t want to get stuck in a dead-end job,” said Tavon. “Because I want to be successful, and I want to own my car and own a house. I want to be financially stable and have my kids be financially stable.”

Emily plans to study environmental engineering at Ohio State in September. Emily sat in her room with her advanced calculus text book and shook her head.

“My parents have been saving pretty much since I was born for this,” said Emily. “So they have some, but obviously they don’t have a $100,000 sitting around, so I have to keep working.”

Because they are both willing to work and because they have clear visions of the challenges that are ahead, they not only see the possible, but they also have a plan to make it happen.