School: Deerfield High School (Class of 2011)
The “straight-from-high-school-to-college” path, though very standard for Deerfield graduates, is definitely not for everyone. At first look, Katie Conroy might seem the very most obvious candidate for such a trajectory; an extremely bright student, Conroy took many honors and AP-level classes as well as participated in multiple sports at the varsity level.
Conroy was even chosen as the commencement speaker at Deerfield’s Class of 2011 graduation ceremony. Her amazing speech included an anecdote concerning a particularly miserable morning when she waded through the flooded back forty only to discover that school had been cancelled. Through and through, Katie Conroy is the epitome of a student who loves and embraces what a good education has to offer.
But after applying to ten schools last fall, a very funny thing happened -- Conroy realized she had no desire to go straight to college.
“I started thinking about taking a gap year soon after because I realized I was in no way ready to take on college,” Conroy said. “I just didn’t have direction yet.”
Searching for an alternative, Conroy originally considered a trip to Paraguay as part of a program called AFS. But she was intrigued after a neighbor mentioned another program called Awamaki.
According to its website, Awamaki is “a Peruvian non-profit working with impoverished Quechua women weavers to improve their skills and increase their access to market, thereby revitalizing an endangered weaving tradition while affording Quechua women with a reliable source of income.” (The term “Quechuas” refers to the American Indian people of Peru.)
Conroy was immediately drawn to Awamaki.
“I thought it sounded interesting, so I met with a representative and immediately fell in love,” Conroy said.
She was what really captured her attention is Awamaki's “perfect combination of structure and independence.” The Awamaki program will place Conroy in southern Peru for the duration of what would otherwise have been her freshman year. She’ll return for Christmas and New Years, but that's it.
Conroy will travel to Ollantaytambo, a town famous for the Inca builds that make it an archaeological treasure. Conroy will work with Ollantaytambo’s education system to launch a more substantial, legitimate music program then what had existed before. In addition, she’ll work in tandem with Ollantaytambo’s teachers to run an outreach program for locals with physical and developmental disabilities.
Awamaki is an incredible effort with a noble goal; it’s interesting to think about what the world would be like if more American high-school graduates took part in such programs before their first year of college.
“Many of my friends thought that taking a gap year would put me behind the eight ball in terms of my career and post-college life, but I think it's just the opposite,” Conroy said.
Surely, her decision to participate in a life-changing program like Awamaki is not a waste of anyone’s time. Conroy’s year in Peru will not only help a community in need, but will also help her figure out what really matters.
“What I hope to gain for myself from this experience is a better sense of self,” Conroy said. “I want to find my path and start walking it. I hope other kids in the community realize that it’s okay to not feel ready for college.”