Almost exactly 12 years ago, The Salt Lake Tribune sat down with a group of first graders on their first day of school.
The kids were nervous and excited and couldn’t stop asking when recess would be. At that time, in 2007, they were just starting at Orchard Elementary in West Valley City. And their worries were mostly about who they’d talk to and what they’d eat for lunch.
Still, they put on a brave face to offer advice to those starting kindergarten next door. One girl kept it simple: “Here’s how to make friends: Say, ‘Do you want to be my friend?’ ”
This year, those same students graduated from high school. They’re starting college and getting jobs.
We tracked down five of them to catch up on what they hope to accomplish and how their education has shaped them. This is what they want to do with their lives — and how their advice has changed with time and experience.
Lerdahl has always liked doing things her own way. On the first day of first grade, when her teacher handed her a nametag, she wrote “Danielle” above it again so it would be in her handwriting.
She’s enrolled at Salt Lake Community College now, where she still intends to put her personal touch on things.
Lerdahl plans to get her associate degree there, as well as dabble in a few science classes, before transferring to a bigger school. She thinks maybe she’ll study to become a veterinarian.
“I’m not quite sure yet,” she said. “But I live in a house full of animals — five reptiles and a dog. And I think I want to work with animals.”
That interest started with a wildlife biology class she took during her senior year at Cyprus high. The 18-year-old currently works as an assistant groomer for dogs and cats.
• Her advice in 2007: “I was not afraid. My friends were not afraid.”
• Her advice now: “Don’t try to fit in with other people. Being weird is more fun.”
Ever since he can remember, Bustamante has been interested in politics.
In elementary school, he ran for student council, campaigning to earn his classmates’ votes. In high school, he was on the debate and speech team, ranking 20th in the state and qualifying for the national competition his senior year. For him, education and political science have always been tied together.
And he hopes to keep it that way in his career. “I want to be a social studies teacher and a debate coach,” he said.
Bustamante, 18, is taking politics classes at Salt Lake Community College. He hopes to finish his associate degree there and then transfer to a larger university to major in education.
• His advice in 2007: “Work on getting friends on the first day of school. It doesn’t matter how you dress.”
• His advice now: “You should develop a work ethic and do your homework. Don’t goof off.”
Vasquez got her first job two years ago at the J.C. Penney store by her house. She started as a cashier and has worked her way up to supervisor. And she loves it.
Because of the job, she wants to study business administration when she starts school at Salt Lake Community College in the spring. She wants to stay in retail, too, after she graduates with a focus on fashion.
“Maybe one day I’ll even start my own clothing business,” the 18-year-old said, laughing when she looked back at the picture of her first grade outfit: a flowery T-shirt with Snow White on the front.
When she gets her diploma, Vasquez said, she’s going to feel even more proud to walk across the stage knowing that she’ll have worked hard to pay for it.
• Her advice in 2007: “Don’t be nervous because in school we have fun. Your parents will come back and pick you up after school.”
• Her advice now: “Do your best at learning. Just enjoy all of what comes with school.”
Throughout school, Villegas found he couldn’t wait until it was time for art class, counting down the hours and the minutes.
He loved drawing and painting and playing with color. (His nametag from first grade included just about every shade of crayon imaginable.)
Now, as an adult, he hopes to pursue a career in film production. Currently, he’s dabbling in photography. And at Salt Lake Community College, he’s signed up for media classes.
“I want to create my own films. Abstract stuff,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in those kind of things.”
• His advice in 2007: “Put antibacterial on your hands so you don’t get germs on your snack.”
• His advice now: “It doesn’t matter what others think. Try to focus on yourself and develop who you are. Just focus on yourself.”
When he was 6 years old, Neihart liked dragons and the color red. Twelve years later, that hasn’t changed. But a lot else has.
Neihart, 18, graduated from Cyprus High in May. And he recently got a new job as a forklift operator at Burton Lumber in Salt Lake City.
In school, he learned that he likes working with his hands and seeing building materials before they are turned into something like an office space or a house.
“It’s a pretty good gig,” he said. “I want to work my way up.”
• His advice in 2007: “Outline the picture first, then color it inside.”
• His advice now: “Elementary school is meant for fun. Then you can worry about stressing about homework when you get to junior high and high school.”