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‘Success Stories’ Show Students Another Path


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Life’s path can be winding and unpredictable. That was the message coming from the presentations on Jan. 29, called “Success Stories.” The program was organized by a group of Westford parents who formed a Challenge Success committee. [Continue below].

Challenge Success raises awareness of the many pathways students can take toward success and encourages them to let go of some of the high school pressure with which they overburden themselves.

The speakers

Jen Petro-Roy is a Chelmsford resident who recounted how, after graduating from the top of her high school class and getting into Boston College, she struggled with an eating disorder which resulted in her transferring schools twice and taking multiple breaks from school. Despite the ups and downs she experienced, Petro-Roy got her master’s degree in library science and went on to become an author of young adult books. Her upcoming book addresses eating disorder recovery, and Petro-Roy frequently speaks at various treatment centers and to middle schoolers about writing, mental health, and resilience.
Nicholas Amato went to college planning on studying computer science. After a couple of classes into one of his computer science classes, he walked out wondering if he had maybe purchased the wrong textbook. Not long after that he switched his major and ended up graduating with a degree in Economics. After a few months working in a cubicle in the financial world, he knew he hadn’t found what he wanted to do with his life. After some reflection and good advice from his dad, he remembered how much he enjoyed English class in high school—and high school, in general—and decided to become a teacher. He is currently in his 13th year teaching high school English.
As a middle and high school student, Joy Hosford was always stressed about school and—for lack of a better word—lazy when it came to school work. As she finished high school, she knew she wasn’t ready for the traditional route of living at school; in fact, she was petrified of the idea. Hosford graduated with little or no plan, except to head off to community college, where she hit her stride and enrolled in a four-year university for her final two years. There she connected with her writing professor, who helped her turn everything around and put her on track for the career of her choice. Hosford is now celebrating her 10th year in journalism, loves her job, and still counts that professor as a friend and mentor.
After struggling with a learning disability in middle school, Briana Lumbert was pleasantly surprised to find academic success in her high school years at Nashoba Valley Technical High School. And she surprised those around her when she was the only female student to choose the auto body track at Nashoba, which also led to a job at a local body shop. After high school, she got a degree in exercise science, but the job she landed made her long for something more. She made the choice to go back to work at the auto body shop and enlisted in the Massachusetts National Guard. As if that wasn’t enough, this 24-year-old is already planning for her master’s degree and her next adventure.
Mariclare O’Neal was a mediocre student in high school, more focused on making friends and surviving the social minefield of high school. After graduating with a degree in psychology, she followed in the footsteps of her father (and many other relatives) and went to law school. After getting her law degree, O’Neal went to work in the family law firm, got married, and had kids. After eight years in a career she was hating, O’Neal made the the transition to stay-at-home mom. She spent the next 12 years raising children, volunteering in the community, and serving a term on the Westford School Committee. Her experiences volunteering her kid’s schools led O’Neal to, at the age of 45, go back to school to become a school guidance counselor. She currently is the guidance counselor at Chelmsford High School and feels very fortunate to get to work with some amazing students and to finally have a job that she loves and looks forward to going to every day.
As a boy working for the family contracting business, Charlie Silva never imagined it would lead to his becoming a television personality. But after years of working hard and receiving plenty of tough love and life lessons from his uncles and his grandfather, Silva eventually took over the family business, and became one of the featured contractors on “This Old House” on PBS. Though he didn’t excel in academics in high school, and he never attended college, Silva’s path reminds others that hard, enjoyable work and recognizing opportunities when they arise can lead to a fulfilling career.
As the fifth of seven children, Clare O’Brien spent years watching her older siblings going through the college application and admissions process. And it terrified her. And in addition to the seven kids, O’Brien’s family often had foreign exchange students staying in the home. O’Brien was impressed by their sense of adventure, and it inspired her to take a gap year after high schools, spending a year studying and exploring in the Netherlands. O’Brien’s gap year adventure abroad left her with an increased self confidence and resilience, products of the patience and hard work it took to learn a new language while navigating a new country. Her experience abroad led O’Brien to a degree in French and graduate degrees in counseling and higher education. Through her career, O’Brien has helped international students as they acclimate to life in America, has created study abroad programs, and has counseled students who, like she had once been, were feeling overwhelmed and stressed by life, education, and career.

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