CADILLAC — The open houses are scheduled, the college applications are submitted and the diplomas are primed and ready to go.
The pomp and circumstance is about to start.
It's graduation season and high school seniors throughout our area are getting ready to take that next step in their lives.
The question is, what is that next step? And where will they end up?
The Cadillac News created a survey asking students to tell us a little about themselves, what their plans were for after high school and where they wanted to live one day.
We contacted schools in our coverage area and asked the surveys be given to the top 10 students at the schools.
Results were varied, as some schools do a top 10% group of students or some sent in surveys from the valedictorians and salutatorians.
In total, the Cadillac News received 51 surveys: 10 from Evart High School, 10 from Marion High School, nine from Pine River High School, nine from McBain Rural Agricultural High School, seven from Lake City High School, two from Mesick Consolidated Junior/Senior High School and four from Cadillac High School.
The following is what we learned.
Where are they heading after high school?
Of the 51 respondents, 49 of the high school seniors were planning to go to a post-high school educational institution after graduation.
Nine were planning on going to Ferris State University, six Baker College, five to Central Michigan University and then a smattering to schools across the state and even country, including State College of Florida, University of Michigan, Kettering University and Michigan State University.
Several students said they were thinking about furthering their education by going on to medical or graduate school.
McBain senior Arie Gentry is planning to study mathematics and computer science at Eastern Michigan University after high school.
He hopes to become either a high school teacher or college professor someday and doesn't mind getting a little extra schooling to get there.
"I am absolutely planning on obtaining my masters degree," he said. "But I would not be opposed to eventually obtaining a doctorate."
Cadillac senior Elizabeth Kennard said she found a passion for science and medicine during high school and she will attend medical school after studying biochemistry at Grand Valley State University.
Of the two survey respondents who are not planning to go on to a college or university immediately after high school, one respondent is going into the Marines and the other will start training to be a dog groomer this summer.
How likely are students to come back to their hometowns?
In the survey, seniors were asked how likely they were to live in their hometown as an adult.
Of the responses, the majority said they were unlikely to return to their hometown as an adult with 34 seniors stating as such.
There were 11 seniors who said they were likely to return to their hometown, two said they were somewhat likely to return and four seniors said they were unsure.
"At this point I’m really not sure," said Marion senior William Jenema. "It all depends on my job and people I have a relationship with. But if I had to choose, I would prefer to stick around here."
Many of the survey respondents said they did not believe there would be jobs available for them in their hometown, including those who were planning on going into engineering, law or kinesiology fields.
"I want to live somewhere much larger than Evart," senior Laura Junker said. "Plus there aren't as many jobs for lawyers here."
Lake City senior Braden Hinkston plans to study at the University of Michigan to become an athletic trainer and said he will more than likely need to be in a bigger city to acquire a job.
But for Lake City senior Makayla Ardis, who plans to study physical therapy at Trine University, she will likely stay there "because it will always be my hometown and I loved the community."
There's also Evart senior Carter Pritchard, who wants to be a high school math teacher one day.
"I love it here and want to spend the rest of my life in this community," he said.
Besides worrying about job opportunities, seniors also expressed an interest in going out into the world, traveling and trying new experiences in different places.
"I love Marion, it’s where I grew up, but I would love to branch out from the small town experiences," Marion senior Trinity Bloss said.
But after traveling, some do want to come back home.
Pine River senior Gretchen Geer said she could potentially come back, but she wants to expand her horizons and experience other places as well.
"I may not come back right away, but after my adventures, I probably would," she said.
As for where they will be traveling to live, nine respondents specifically said they would like to move somewhere warm or warmer.
Others said they were planning on moving to bigger cities for career opportunities like Grand Rapids or Traverse City.
Pine River senior Taylor Hill, on the other hand, plans on living in Montana, mainly because of the view.
She's always enjoyed traveling across the states, but Montana has always been her favorite.
"I would love to look out my window and see mountains," Hill said.
What careers do they want to pursue?
In the responses received, there were 12 seniors who specifically said they wanted to go into fields to help people.
Like Geer, who wants to get her bachelor's of science in nursing with a minor in Spanish at Western Michigan University.
"I want to do something good with my life and help others," she said. "Being a nurse seems to be the best way to do that."
McBain senior Isabella Gandolfi plans to attend Kettering University and study chemical engineering. She plans to make a difference.
"I am interested in this field because of the many opportunities I will have to change people’s lives," she said. "With my chemical engineering degree, I intend to make advancements in the medical field."
Many students also talked about how they were going into something they were passionate about, which does give one hope for the future.
Some words of wisdom for the underclassmen
Two of the graduating seniors shared some words of advice for underclassmen.
Mesick Senior Emily Bryer said they shouldn't be afraid to change their mind.
She was taking dual enrollment classes to become a psychologist and then realized one day it wasn't really what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
Now she plans to study business administration at Baker College and wants to own her own business.
"Choosing is difficult and I at first thought that it would be too late to change my path but I'm glad I did," she said. "School is stressful and your grades matter! I let my grades slip freshman year and I've been trying to fix it ever since. Just stay focused! In the end, it's you who is your greatest support."
Monica O'Neill, another Mesick senior, had some very wise words to share indeed.
"Don’t procrastinate," she said. "It’s a lot easier to just get it done and it saves you a lot of stress."
The Cadillac News reached out to the following schools multiple times to try and include them in the study: Baldwin High School, Buckley Community Schools, Cadillac Heritage Christian, McBain Northern Michigan Christian School, Manton Consolidated Schools, Reed City Area Public Schools.