Ready for the unpredictable – A graduate’s journey |

Ready for the unpredictable – A graduate’s journey

Following is the first in The Union’s five-part series of conversations with local graduates looking back at high school and ahead to their adult lives. A student from each area school will be featured over the coming week.

By the time the sun sets on graduate-packed J. David Ramsey Stadium tonight, Nicole Kelley’s thoughts may be hundreds of miles away, in a crowded dorm room with boxes of cold pizza, study guides and used CDs littering the floor.

After a quirky four years at Bear River High School, that’s the life Kelley has earned for herself.

And the Berkeley-bound valedictorian doesn’t want it any other way.

In August, Kelley leaves, the first person in her family to attend college directly out of high school. If she prevails, Kelley said with a wink, she might finish college before her mother, a part-time student at Sacramento State, does.

After trying during her freshman and part of her sophomore years to fit in with the cool crowd – Kelley got a spot on the freshman cheer squad but didn’t make it her second year – she discovered that gaining knowledge was cool, too.

“I told myself, ‘I like school,’ and I started making true friends and just being myself,” she said. “Being myself was doing my schoolwork and being a nerd, and I like that. I think it’s cool to be a nerd.”

Still, Kelley downplays her accomplishments with the self-deprecating manner of a wide-eyed innocent not quite deserving to walk the University of California hills once traversed by the likes of former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, counterculture guru Timothy Leary, and even dropout Jack London.

“I’m scared to death to be around all these students who are so smart,” she said. “I had to actually work hard to get my grades.

“I think it will be overwhelming for a while, but I think I found my niche.”

Kelley graduates tonight as a valedictorian with better than a 4.0 grade-point average, thanks to advanced-placement classes.

The end of school comes at no better time, since “senioritis” has become chronic for Kelley, who a few months ago feared her acceptance into Berkeley was in jeopardy.

“Up until this year, I was a really good student,” she joked.

At the moment, Kelley’s future is overflowing with possibilities. She’s thought about studying physics, taking an active role in dorm leadership, studying Buddhism, playing intramural tennis – maybe even joining a sorority.

“I don’t know if I could handle sorority girls,” Kelley said, “but I don’t know. Maybe they will be better than I think.”

Kelley has even thought of joining the Peace Corps.

“I don’t know what third-world countries will do with someone with a physics degree,” she said.

In the fall, Kelley will be leaving a posse of her best friends, and the times of her life, behind. There won’t be any road trips to the beach or drives to Roseville to watch underground punk-rock bands with Kelley’s best friends. Amy Streeter and Allison Hrutky are headed south to California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, and Samantha “Sam” Frank and Jessica “Jake” Smith are headed to college in Los Angeles and Oregon, respectively.

Asked why she isn’t joining Kelley in the Bay Area bohemian mecca, Streeter paused.

“Because Nicole is responsible. Berkeley’s like this big-city place. It’s very Nicole.”

So they’ll hang out at Grad Night, soaking up the makeshift “Hollywood” theme at Bear River’s multipurpose room, before it will be time to grow up for real.

And the young woman who grew up within walking distance of the Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park will soon realize her own roller-coaster ride through high school does have a soft landing.

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