As part of Langlee Garrett’s Wolverines Around The World project at Polk County Middle School, a number of Polk County Schools graduates shared information about their career as well as advice for current students.

Here is a look at the photos and advice submitted by graduates that has been placed on a bulletin board at Polk County Middle School.

Cristina Searcy


Job Title: Family Nurse Practitioner
Current Location: Asheville, North Carolina
PCHS Graduation Year: 2002

A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: Study hard, choose a good college, and then study hard there too.

What can students do now to prepare for life outside of Polk County? Learn as much as you can, no one can take knowledge away from you.

“Also remember when choosing a career, like my Daddy always says “it’s spelled W-O-R-K not F-U-N.” If you can find work that is also fun, you win… If not don’t worry about it, it’s a job, a paycheck, food on the table, roof over your head, clothes on your back, and financial security, that also means a lot.”

Justin Belleme

Job Title: Founder, Director of the Strategy JB Media Group, Co-Founder JB Media Institute
Current Location: Asheville, North Carolina
PCHS Graduation Year: 2001

Something you learned at PCHS: One of the greatest values at PCHS was my time on the yearbook staff. I learned a lot about production and about managing people and producing a product on a deadline. I feel like managing the team at JB Media Group is something that is similar to the professional and adult version of managing the year book staff. I also got a lot out of the YAP Summer Internship program that the PC Community Foundation offered while I was in school as well. I’m glad that I was supported by my teachers and career staff to pursue that opportunity.

A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: If you want to be in a leadership position in your career look for opportunities in school to work on collaborative projects and try to get into leadership positions on projects, sports, clubs or other activities. These will help you get into college and will also help you in your professional life as well.

What can students do now to prepare for life outside of Polk County? Take time to travel. Visit other cities and states, visit colleges of various sizes to see what kind of school is the right fit for you if you plan on going to a four year university. Pick a school based on what works for you versus where your friends or parents want you to go.

Emma-Catherine Ali

Job Title: Doctor of Optometry
Current Location: Virginia
PCHS Graduation Year: 2001

Something you learned at PCHS: Studying pays off!

A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: Volunteer, there is a lot more to life than high school. Go get some perspective!

What can students do now to prepare for life outside of Polk County? Be willing to work hard and be willing to ask for help if you need it. There are people genuinely willing to help you succeed!

Chris Franks

Job Title: Chief of Fighter Weapons and Tactics, 77 Fighter Squadron, Shaw Air Force Base
Current Location: Sumter, S.C.
PCHS Graduation Year: 2002

Something you learned at PCHS: Good things happen to those who work hard and treat others with respect.

A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something. Someone once said I’d never be able to make it to where I am today and if I would have listened to them there is no telling what I would be doing right now.

What can students do now to prepare for life outside of Polk County? Study hard and follow your dreams!

Jacob Witten

Job Title: Credit Manager and Project Manager for Glock, Inc.
Current Location: Atlanta, Georgia
PCHS Graduation Year: 2002

Something you learned at PCHS: Appreciate the little things.

A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: Be involved with as much as you can without over extending yourself.

What can students do now to prepare for life outside of Polk County? Don’t be afraid of a new experience. You can always come back!

Courtney Reese

Job Title: Medical Speech-Language Pathologist
Current Location: Columbia, South Carolina
PCHS Graduation Year: 2005

Something you learned at PCHS: Of course, PCHS was the foundation of my education, helping me develop my learning style and understanding how to be successful in the classroom. More importantly, I learned about discipline, hard work, and a lot about who I am as a person. These skills have carried me through many difficult times since PCHS—in college, in graduate school, and also during my working career.

A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: Life doesn’t just happen to you—you have to go out there and MAKE the life you want! It takes ambition and hard work, but NO DREAM IS TOO BIG!

What can students do now to prepare for life outside of Polk County? Keep working to learn more about yourselves. What are your strengths? What are your interests? As you get older, you will have opportunities to decide what you can study, where you can go, and potential career choices. If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. I have been so fortunate to find such a career!

Megan Markovic

Job Title: Stewardship and Alumni Relations Coordinator, Le Jardin Academy
Current Location: Kailua, Hawaii
PCHS Graduation Year: 2002

Something you learned at PCHS: Cherish your time with your teachers while you can! They are invaluable and have so much to teach you!

A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: Change is inevitable. Never let there be a time in your life where you chose to stop learning and growing from your good and bad experiences. If someone/something doesn’t bring out the best in you, then it’s the wrong person/thing to be around. Happiness and success are a result of relentless personal effort. It’s never too late to be whoever you want to be.

What can students do now to prepare for life outside of Polk County? Get comfortable with the idea that you may fail – and that the worst that can happen is you end up where you are now. One day you will look back and regret the chances or opportunities you didn’t take – so be sure to take them! Failure gives you a chance to grow or try again – which is way better than regret!

Ashley Horne

Job Title: Tours and Reservations Coordinator, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Current Location: Washington, D.C.
PCHS Graduation Year: 2004

Something you learned at PCHS: The best thing I learned at PCHS was how to work as a team. I was on the Cross Country and Track and Field Teams, and while each individual had our own goals and special activities, our overall efforts had an impact on the entire team. You never wanted to let anyone else down so you gave it your all! I also knew that if I had a bad day on the field, my team was there to cheer me up and push me to try again.

A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: Don’t be afraid to leave! My entire family still lives in Polk County, and it was scary to leave them, but I wouldn’t have the career I have with the Smithsonian if I had stayed. It’s very comforting to know that I am able to return home for visits and share the joy of my career with my family!

What can students do now to prepare for life outside of Polk County? You should study of course! But I encourage you to dream big. Make a list of 10 places in the United States or abroad that you would like to visit or live, even places that seem highly unlikely. Push yourself to make a couple of them happen within the next decade. You will likely surprise yourself with where you end up!

Stephanie Johnson

Job Title: Registered Nurse, Aesthetic Nurse Specialist
Current Location: Greenville, South Carolina
PCHS Graduation Year: 2002

Something you learned at PCHS: I came from a high school where “cliques” were a normal thing and you had to dress and act like the people you hung out with. When I moved to Polk County High, I realized that everyone can be friends and get along, you don’t have to be a part of a click to be liked or have friends.

I also learned that being kind to EVERYONE even if they treat you not so kind goes a long way. You never know if years down the road you may need that person or they may need you. Life has a way of coming full circle sometimes so don’t spend time harboring negative energy, focus on being positive and you will get positive in return!

A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough or that you can’t do something. If you want it… work hard, stay focused and go get it!

What can students do now to prepare for life outside of Polk County? Take advice from people older than you. Ask questions. Begin to think about what you want your lifestyle to look like. Once you can visualize your goals, have fun but stay focused on achieving those goals.

Megan and Nick Holmberg

Megan Holmberg
Job Title: Physical Therapist
Current Location: Denver, Colorado
PCHS Graduation Year: 2003

Something you learned at PCHS: I learned to follow my dreams even if they seemed unattainable…because someone – likely a PCHS teacher or principal – will fight for them right along with you.

A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: Whether it’s for a brief amount of time or forever, take the opportunity to travel and live outside North Carolina. It will allow you to grow as a person and experience other cultures. The world is a big place with a lot to offer!

What can students do now to prepare for life outside of Polk County? Start making a plan. Organize yourself. Study and apply yourself so you can get a job or go to school in another state/location. And never stop fighting for what you want. If there’s a will, there’s a way!

Nick Holmberg
Job Title: Conflicts Researcher for Baker Hostetler Law Firm
Current Location: Denver, Colorado
PCHS Graduation Year: 2004
A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – in the classroom, on the field or in life. Lennox Charles told me as a soccer player in 2001 as a freshman and again in 2004 as a senior, and it’s stuck with me my whole life.

What can students do now to prepare for life outside of Polk County? Be bold, think differently and stick with your gut instincts. Don’t be afraid to be yourself.

Anna Atkins

Job Title: Registered Nurse
Current Location: Landrum, South Carolina
PCHS Graduation Year: 2005

Something you learned at PCHS: At PCHS I learned what my interests were and what direction I wanted to go for my future. I took the medical science courses and found that this was an area that I loved learning about. This helped me decide to become a nurse!

A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: Stay true to yourself and follow your own passions. During your high school years you really learn who you are. Also do not let others influence you in a negative way. Surround yourself with positive people who encourage you to follow your dreams and do your best! Oh and have fun and enjoy your time at PCHS, it flies by!

Katie Coleman

Job Title: Attorney & Partner, Thompson & Knight LLP
Current Location: Austin, Texas
PCHS Graduation Year: 2000

Something you learned at PCHS: How to interact with people who aren’t necessarily like you. In a bigger city or school it is easy to find a group of peers who are similar to you academically, socioeconomically, racially, etc., and only talk to those people. As a result, people from big cities often have a hard time interacting with others who are in a different race, class, or social group. PCHS is small, so you get to know EVERYONE and learn how to respect and appreciate people who are different from you. Being able to talk to anyone is a major skill out in the “real world” and will help you be successful.

A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: Don’t be intimidated by your peers who live in big cities and the additional opportunities they have. I remember being afraid that my strengths/talents wouldn’t be competitive in a bigger city or school—but that was absolutely not true. If you are a good writer, or good at math, or a good athlete among your classmates in Polk County, that will translate to college or a job in a bigger environment. Trust your capabilities and aim high.

What can students do now to prepare for life outside of Polk County? Travel, if you can, to be exposed to different people and ideas. If traveling isn’t an option then READ – the internet, newspapers, magazines, anything to help gain a broader perspective on the world that exists outside PC. Also, try to prepare for a world where there are no exceptions made for you. At PCHS, everyone knows who you are and you can get a pass sometimes if you forget to do your homework, miss a test, etc. When you are in a bigger city or school, there are simply too many people for any special treatment, so it is much more important to play by the rules if you want to be successful.

Jacob Wolfe

Job Title: Owner of an Art & Design Business
Current Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
PCHS Graduation Year: 2006

Biggest thing I learned at PCHS: It’s what you do with the gifts and talents you have that defines you as a person. I also learned that having passion for something will drive you and challenge you to be a better person, a better student and help you contribute positively to society.

To prepare for life outside PCHS: University systems have rules and regulations on what to teach you, therefore there is only so much one can learn in this environment. So I would challenge everyone to regularly come up with their own thoughts and ideas and use common sense! Common sense and hard work will make you successful not a degree. Also this world is experience driven, so go out while you’re in high school and college and get as much work experience as you can!

Emily Riddle

Job Title: Speech-Language Pathologist
Current Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
PCHS Graduation Year: 2002

Something you learned at PCHS: Be kind to your teachers because they have a hard job, too. They also have a lot of good stories.

A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: Everyone grows over time – you don’t have to stay the same to meet other peoples’ expectations. Don’t be afraid to grow and pursue your passions!

What can students do now to prepare for life outside of Polk County? Travel near and far! Experiencing new places opens your eyes to how big life can be!

Jennifer Vantera Langdon

Job Title: Educational Interpreter
Current Location: Hendersonville, North Carolina
PCHS Graduation Year: 2002

Something you learned at PCHS: By participating in various clubs such as Interact Club and the Humane Society Club, I learned that volunteering my time was something very near and dear to my heart.

A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: If you’re not sure what you want to do after high school or even if you do know, please consider applying to AmeriCorps. There are many different branches to choose from and it’s a great way to give back to your community. During you time in the Corp., not only will you grow as a person, you’ll discover new things about yourself, travel to different parts of the country, develop lifelong friendships and they’ll even pay part of your college tuition after completion of the program. I highly recommend this to any young adult!! Also, travel as much as you can before you settle down and start a family!!

What can students do now to prepare for life outside of Polk County? Study hard. It really does pay off! Take any opportunity to travel outside of Polk County! Embrace diversity, other cultures and always have an open mind!

Joe Mize

Job Title: Technical Service Manager, BENEO, Inc.
Current Location: Durham, North Carolina
High School Class Year: 2001

Something you learned at PCHS: A few valuable things that I took from my time at PCHS are: 1) a love for travel and interest in other cultures – I was given the opportunity to travel to Europe twice with the French class which sparked a love for travel and experiencing other cultures that remains strong today. 2) Well-rounded education that prepared me for college – through AP courses I was able to get a head start on my college credit requirements and this also helped provide a good foundation for performing well in college and beyond. 3) Think ahead and make plans – my teachers helped prepare me for the future by encouraging me to think down the road and set goals about what jobs might be enjoyable to me and what I wanted my life to look like 5-10 years later.

A piece of advice for a Polk County Student: I would say try to cherish your time in school because it really is a great time for building lifelong friendships, self-improvement and self-discovery. Try to challenge yourself with doing well in school, participating in sports, clubs or other extracurricular activities and set goals for yourself in the future. Also, all courses that you take in school will end up being relevant later on in life, be it in college, work or other segments of life.

What can students do now to prepare for life outside of Polk County? Focus on doing well in school, forming good habits and taking on as many extra endeavors and responsibilities as you think you can handle. Hard work now will set a good foundation for success later on in life no matter where you end up. Also, going to get a college degree will open up many doors in terms of occupations and places to live. Polk County is not so bad either though!