Continuing with The Leader’s special summer series, “Where Are They Now?” here is a look at the path some members of the Class of 2012 have taken since their days at Oakdale High School. Catch up with Stevie Cordoza, Emily Johnson and Kelsey Ude.
While she did leave high school six years ago to go on to college, Class of 2012 graduate, Stevie Cordoza, has found herself back in the classroom – as a teacher.
Despite the fact that she graduated from Cal Poly with a major in Business and minored in Pre-Law, with plans to move to the Bay Area and work there in technology, she’s found herself in Charlotte, North Carolina working as a Social Studies teacher at Garinger High School.
“I did not think I would be teaching,” she shared. But when she started looking for jobs “nothing really felt quite right.”
For her time at Cal Poly, Cordoza was involved in her sorority, a Women in Business club, and did market research work for the graduate program. All of her involvement seemed to point straight to a career in business, where she thought she’d find herself most fulfilled.
“I think I always wanted to do several different things, but for me business encapsulated a bit of everything I wanted to do,” Cordoza explained.
This enthusiasm for her major is especially helpful at a school like Cal Poly, where it’s a bit harder to switch majors after going in.
Cordoza eventually was recruited to join Teach for America.
“It’s like a peace corps within the United States, but it focuses just on education,” she said.
The program’s main propelling goal is to make real the idea that “Education is the great equalizer” and to send excited, young professionals into the classroom to help teach with this goal in mind.
The stated mission for Teach for America is to “enlist, develop, and mobilize as many as possible of our nation’s most promising future leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence.”
“I’m always reflecting back on my time at Oakdale High School,” Cordoza noted. “A lot of my teachers at Oakdale definitely treated me with respect and had high expectations” and she expressed that she wants to do the same for her own students.
Even though there are differences between experiences at Oakdale and Garinger High School, it was obvious that Cordoza wouldn’t have it any other way, as being a part of Teach for America “just kind of felt like the right fit.”
She explained that she wanted to feel good about her job, and had always wanted to make a difference. If anything, she hopes to be remembered for “being service-oriented, and for the work I did and the lasting impact.”
Though her path did not turn out exactly like she planned it to, she’s satisfied with the idea that “in the end, it all matters for some reason.”
Another Class of 2012 graduate who didn’t necessarily follow the path she had planned is Emily Johnson.
Johnson has been heavily involved in theatre during her time spent in Oakdale, and has continued that passion throughout her college years. She did some preliminary acting at Hutton’s Hamlet and reflected that “what impacted me the most in high school was my time spent in the drama department.”
She decided to attend Columbia College in Sonora for a year and then spent a year in Oakdale attending MJC, because she “wanted to save money since I was responsible for paying for my college education.”
The plan seemed to work well.
“The transition from high school to junior college wasn’t necessarily hard to do as it was difficult to grasp,” she commented. Because she stayed local and maintained connections, Johnson was able to take a position at Hutton’s Hamlet to help with summer workshops and also choreographed for concerts at the high school and junior high level.
After graduating MJC with honors and her AA-T in Theatre, she took a gap year to participate in the Disney College Program in Florida. Johnson expressed that she loved this “magical time” working there. This involvement in Disney World extended back to California when she continued her education at University of California, Irvine, and worked at Disneyland.
However, before she had fully made her way back to California, she went to Las Vegas, Nevada to work with Youth With a Mission (YWAM).
She detailed her time spent in Las Vegas: “We studied the Bible, built relationships with the people in our neighborhood, and aided victims of human trafficking and prostitution.”
After three months studying and training in Nevada, the team worked for a month in India and Nepal where, she explained, they spent time “continuing our work with human trafficking in villages and slums in those countries.
“Those five months were the hardest five months of my life, but also the best five months of my life. I learned so much about the Lord, about myself and who I am meant to be, and how I can truly love the people around me.”
Johnson keeps taking strides forward, pursuing what she loves as she studies at UCI. Just recently, Johnson was cast as a vocalist and dancer in “The Greatest Show at UCI,” a five minute university collaborative project available online. In the fall, she’ll be continuing her theatre streak as part of ‘Legally Blonde the Musical’ at UCI.
Looking back, she expressed that she wouldn’t change anything. She’s incredibly glad that she decided to attend junior college first and save up, that she tried her hand at different internships and jobs over a gap year, and then is now pursuing her dream. Johnson reflected that it’s all been possible “because of those crucial years I spent in the valley and traveling the world.”
She’s now deciding between continuing school and getting a masters or moving to LA and shooting for a career in entertainment.
Nevertheless, she continually expressed gratitude to her church, her friends, and her family for all their support and encouragement.
“Without them, I don’t think I would be where I am today.”
“I had to change who I was to get anywhere,” Kelsey Ude, Oakdale High School Class of 2012 graduate, and recent owner of The Garage Barbershop in Oakdale, shared of how she came to be where she is today.
After graduating from OHS, she took a few classes at MJC, but the truth was that it really wasn’t the path she wanted to be on.
“School was not for me,” Ude admitted, “so I got a full time job at K-Mart here in town.”
However, she learned soon that retail wasn’t necessarily for her either. Ude reflected on an especially bad day she’d had working; once she went out to her car after the rough shift, she had a mini crisis.
“I prayed, just ‘Jesus, I know that I’m not supposed to be in retail for the rest of my life, what is it that I’m supposed to do?’,” she explained.
A few minutes later, she found her answer. After scrolling through Instagram, an ad popped up for barbering school.
“If I could see myself being anything,” Ude expressed, “I could see myself being a barber. It just fit me.”
It took a lot of faith, time, and dedication for her to get to where she wanted to be. Even after saving enough to go to school, the time commitments were exhausting – she went to school from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., then went straight to work after until 10 at night, five days a week, for a year.
Once she got her license, it took a little while but she finally took a leap of faith, despite her doubts.
“I worked really, really hard for this. I just needed to make the leap and do it.”
Ude then took a job as a barber in Stockton, and learned from there. Often, she’d post pictures on her Instagram account of the cuts and fades she’d given.
“My friends saw the pictures and were like, ‘Oh my gosh, I wish you weren’t so far away’,” she noted.
This encouragement, the Stockton location, and the still ever-busy work schedule motivated Ude to look more locally for a place to cut hair. While searching, she came upon a building for rent, and knew what to do.
The money that she had initially saved for an apartment in Stockton then went to renting the building that would soon become The Garage Barber Shop. Word soon spread after she cut her brother’s and cousin’s hair; their friends saw and wanted their hair cut, too. A few business cards later, and Ude found her shop open for business.
“I had to change my complete mindset and realize that I was the one holding myself back,” she said of her success today. Ude heavily emphasized how much changing had to occur, how many hours she had to spend pursuing what she wanted, and how much faith she needed to be able to do it all.
“You can change the situation you’re in, and that’s what really clicked for me,” she concluded. “That, and just always having faith in God, just knowing that His plan is a good plan. We just have to take the initiative.”
Look for the next installment of this series in the July 18 issue, with a visit featuring members of the Class of 2011.