EVERETT — Marysville and Arlington kids joined thousands of fellow middle and high schoolers from across the county at Everett Community College’s 14th annual Students of Color Career Conference March 24.
It was the first such conference for Kilean Smith, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Marysville Middle School, and Isaiah Valera, a 16-year-old junior at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.
Kilean hadn’t been sure what he wanted to do with his future, but sitting in on a session about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math has made him lean toward STEM.
“I didn’t realize how much technology we use every day,” Kilean said. “It’s a growth industry, and I’m good at using technology.”
Isaiah had already made up his mind to go into computer engineering, because he wanted to emulate his cousin.
“He was the first in our family to go to college,” Isaiah said. “He’s pretty smart, so I thought we could combine our ideas to create new technology.”
Both young men were inspired by the stories they’d heard from adult professionals of color, including Erin Jones, superintendent of the Tacoma School District.
“They talked about how they’d overcome and prevailed,” Isaiah said. “What they’ve accomplished is inspiring. No matter what, if you just persevere and put your best foot forward, you can make it too.”
“All of [Jones’] kids managed to do cool things, even though they had problems,” Kilean said. “If you think you’re no good, you just need to put your mind to it, and you can accomplish anything.”
Arlington High School’s students included sophomore J’Lanelle Julien and Noah Jackson, both of whom attended last year’s conference.
J’Lanelle is weighing her options between the Air Force Academy and going to UCLA to become a lawyer, the latter because she loves debates and thrives in mock trials.
As for Noah, he hopes to parlay his lifelong love of music into forming his own label eventually.
Both students were grateful for the opportunities they learned about.
“You may look different, but you’re no better or worse than anyone else,” said Noah, who was impressed by the diversity he saw at the EvCC campus.
“There are so many options for what you can do with your life,” J’Lanelle said. “You have to go after what you want, and you need to stay in school and get an education. No matter what your race is, you can still go to school, and it’a important to have that background.”
Master Sgt. Alvin Moore, of the AHS Air Force Junior ROTC program, is an instructor and a man of color, so he was gratified to see his students benefitting from an event the likes of which he could have used when he was their age.
“This way, students of color aren’t intimated by the prospect of college,” Moore said. “It changes your perspective about possible career paths when you can talk with successful professionals who look like you. Your mindset is not confined to a box. Even if no one else has done something, they still have the potential to do it. As I tell all my kids, don’t tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon.”