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Work life next stop for some grads

Some graduating Pasco County high school students will enter the "real world.''

By KENT FISCHER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2001


Robert Sessa's high school days will end at graduation tonight. The "real world" kicks in Monday when he reports to work for a Tampa computer company.

"I know how to build computers and I know how to network them, so I should always be able to find a job," said Sessa, 19, who will graduate from River Ridge High School. "It's the same field that my father is in, and I want to do it, too."

Pasco County high schools will say goodbye tonight to the Class of 2001. For most of the students, their graduations will serve as mere pit-stops in their educational careers. About 80 percent of them are expected to go on to college. Most of the rest, however, are like Sessa and are going straight to work.

What do their futures hold in a time of a jittery stock market and sagging economy? Historically, the numbers don't look too promising.

The national average income for a male high school graduate in 1998 (the latest available) was $31,477. The average income for a male college graduate that year was $51,405, according to the federal Department of Education.

Sessa said he isn't too concerned with the economy. He said the company he's about to join, USA Cable, starts its new computer associates at about $28,000 a year. That's enough money to pay for a car and an apartment, he said.

"My mom and dad said I could stay with them until I build up a little nest egg," he said.

Gulf High graduate Meri Astifidis plans on moving to Virginia. She's working toward obtaining a cosmetology license and would like to get a job at an upscale spa or resort.

"I make pretty good money for shampooing heads," said Astifidis, 18. "I can do that until I get my license."

Hairstylists always are fairly secure jobs, Astifidis said. After all, people's hair will still need to be cut no matter how low the stock market tumbles. But, she added, a number of teachers and counselors lobbied her to rethink her plans.

"There is a lot of pressure to go to college," she said. "My friends say I have a "non-real' job."

Each year the Pasco County School District surveys its former graduates to see what they did once they received their sheepskin. Most went on to college, either a four-year university or a community college. About a third attend school part-time and also work. Only about 10 percent will do what Tiffany Lach will do: go to work full time.

Lach, 18, works 6 p.m. to midnight at a Checkers restaurant in New Port Richey. She earns about $150 a week and thinks the coming months will be pretty much the same as those that have recently passed.

Each morning she wakes up around 5 a.m., rousts her boyfriend from bed, packs his lunch and drives him to work. In the past she'd then head off to school. Now she says her next stop will be work.

Lach said she would like to become a pastry chef, but she wants to settle down first. Maybe get married and start a family before going to culinary school.

"I have a $200 car payment," said Lach, who will graduate tonight from Gulf High School. "My boyfriend makes about $350 a week, and we could probably live on that. I don't think I'll work for Checkers forever. I want to get my life settled before I figure out what I want to do."

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