MCHS grads prepare to leave for college |

MCHS grads prepare to leave for college

Matt Hulstine, left, and Marlee Chacon stand at the city limits of Craig as they prepare for the next big phase of their lives. The two are among the many 2013 high school graduates who will be leaving Moffat County for college within the coming weeks.
Andy Bockelman

— As they head into their first year of their college education, most incoming freshmen have to cope with a much bigger student body than they were used to in high school. For some in Marlee Chacon’s position, that kind of adjustment would be even more difficult.

With the exception of sitting in on band classes at Moffat County High School and joining in on some extracurricular activities, 2013 graduate Chacon has been home-schooled for nearly her entire academic career.

“I’ve never been to a full day of public school,” she said.

Although her brothers have been her only two classmates on a daily basis, she doesn’t see her upcoming matriculation as too big a challenge. Next week, Chacon will head to private Christian school Biola University, where she welcomes the chance to find her place among the 4,000 undergraduates of the La Mirada, Calif., establishment.

She thinks her experiences with home-schooling will suit her well as she embarks on her college career because it has helped her focus on subjects that interest her most.

“Not everybody learns the same, so it was good for me and my own learning,” she said. “I’ve always been really good at math and science, and I guess I was OK at English, but I always did math and science a grade above. It was good because it wasn’t holding me back.”

Chacon said she applied to Biola University on recommendations from friends while seeking out the next step in schooling.

“I had visited other colleges, but I just felt out of place and like a number,” she said. “Biola made me feel like they care about my education.”

With a $5,000 scholarship from Biola and similar support from groups like Craig Fire/Rescue and Yampa Valley Golf Course, Chacon plans to study biology as a pre-med student, with plans to hopefully attend UCLA’s medical school down the road and ultimately become a doctor of orthopedics.

“Spines really interest me, and I love how the body works and the science of it,” she said.

She already has ample experience in the medical field, working as a certified nurse assistant at Sandrock Ridge. She’s also completed numerous classes at Colorado Northwestern Community College.

“I really want to try and graduate as soon as possible, so I want to power through my bachelor’s,” she said.

Still, that doesn’t mean she won’t enjoy the new location, with the beach and Disneyland well within her radius, a welcome change from small-town life.

As she prepares to head west, Chacon said it will be hardest to leave behind family and friends.

“I’ll miss the people, since I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’ll miss the relationships here,” she said.

Chacon won’t be the only Craig student destined for the coast. Recent MCHS graduate Chris Goucher will be attending the Art Institute of California in San Francisco, studying in the Visual & Game Programming department with the objective of becoming a video game designer.

Goucher said he had considered studying science at Colorado State University, but finding the school that would allow him to pursue his true passion helped finalize his decision.

The Art Institute of California “has a really good program for what I’m going into, and they have a lot of connections for after college,” he said.

MCHS classes in art and computer-aided drawing also guided Goucher, but it was years ago that the idea of designing video games first came to him.

“When I was 3 years old, my dad brought home my first console, and I remember thinking, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” he said.

Goucher said he expects a culture shock when he arrives in California, living in a big city drastically different from the friendly community where he’s always lived.

Another big concern is his wallet.

“My money’s going to go fast there,” he said.

Although Goucher received a merit scholarship based on his artistic portfolio as judged by the Art Institute, he regrets not applying for more local scholarships.

“I wasn’t being very intelligent with that,” he said.

For now, the only thing he wants to focus on is getting out there.

“It’s going to be a really long drive,” he said.

With so much change coming from moving away from home to higher education, most attending a college or university choose to stick with a simple classes-and-make-friends regime. But some high school grads were pretty good at sports and can’t shake the desire to keep on competing in addition to the other new aspects of life.

For Matt Hulstine, there are two more weeks of lifeguarding at the Craig pool and spending time with friends and family before the next phase of life takes over. Hulstine will leave Craig on a long-term basis for the University of Denver, where his obligations to the school and its men’s swimming team will pick up Sept. 1.

Signing to swim at the college level was a dream come true for Hulstine, who swam the fastest time in the state in Class 4A in the 100-meter breast stroke last season. His approaching college departure date has brought with it some nerves.

“I’m definitely nervous, but I’m still excited,” Hulstine said about moving. “This will be a real step up from high school or summer team swimming, and it’s what I want.”

Hulstine is looking forward to being a mid-level swimmer on the team and working to improve at the collegiate level. He knows a busy schedule will keep him away from Craig for much of the year, but he’s not too worried about that.

“I will miss my family, and I’ll miss Craig, but I won’t be so far away that I can’t come home,” he said. “I’m excited for Denver because there’s a lot to do.”

One challenge for college athletes in particular is balancing a nearly year-round practice schedule with studies, especially while traveling to and from competitions, but it is a challenge Hulstine is embracing.

“It will take some adjusting, but I’m looking forward to doing something all the time,” he said. “I want to be challenged in swimming and in academics.”

For some athletes, leaving for school can come early, as fall teams especially want to get practicing and hit the ground running. Kayla Hall is finishing up her first week at Chadron State College in Chadron, Neb., after leaving Sunday to begin practicing with the cheer team.

Hall has kept busy with her cheer work so far and is preparing for classes to begin Monday.

“We’ve been doing three-a-day practices, each two hours,” she said. “But I’ve really liked getting to meet a bunch of new people, and I love the sports part of it, going to a different level.”

Chadron is almost seven hours from Craig, and that distance has been a small source of stress for Hall, but the high amount of activity at school has been a welcome, enjoyable distraction.

“It’s pretty cool and kind of scary at the same time, being so far away from home,” she said. “Everything is all about college here. I never have the ‘Oh, I’m bored,’ situation.”

Hulstine is confident his experience will be similar to Hall’s when he gets to Denver.

“When I went on my official trip, I talked to some swimmers, and they all really liked where they’re at,” he said. “So I’m ready for it.”

Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or

Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 970-875-1795 or

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