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When High School Is Done, How Do You Afford the Next Step? Two Students Find a Way to Pay

One Wins a Scholarship, The Other Launches a Fundraising Drive

  • Richard Otis, 17, of West Fairlee works to prepare for a reunion of Mountain School students in the Vershire school’s kitchen last week. Otis, who recently finished his spring semester at the Mountain School, is the recipient of a Leonore Annenberg Scholarship that will cover all of his college education and associated costs. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Richard Otis, 17, of West Fairlee works to prepare for a reunion of Mountain School students in the Vershire school’s kitchen last week. Otis, who recently finished his spring semester at the Mountain School, is the recipient of a Leonore Annenberg Scholarship that will cover all of his college education and associated costs. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • John Marshall graduated from The Sharon Academy in 2012. He was accepted to a dramatic arts school in New York City, but will have to raise money to help pay for it. He was warming up at Lebanon High School to sing for a fundraiser for the Lebanon High School concert band. (Valey News - Jennifer Hauck)

    John Marshall graduated from The Sharon Academy in 2012. He was accepted to a dramatic arts school in New York City, but will have to raise money to help pay for it. He was warming up at Lebanon High School to sing for a fundraiser for the Lebanon High School concert band. (Valey News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • John Marshall laughs with Lebanon High School performers Elise Ballard and Ali Coombs, right, before singing at a fundraiser for the Lebanon High School concert band. At left is Josh Feder, who was singing with Marshall and other community members at the event. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    John Marshall laughs with Lebanon High School performers Elise Ballard and Ali Coombs, right, before singing at a fundraiser for the Lebanon High School concert band. At left is Josh Feder, who was singing with Marshall and other community members at the event. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • John Marshall greets Karen McLellan, director of the drama program at Lebanon High School, before the school’s concert band cabaret show fundraiser. Marshall had handed her a small card he is handing out to help with his fundraising to attend a dramatic arts school in New York City. Marshall and a group of community members were singing a song for the show. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    John Marshall greets Karen McLellan, director of the drama program at Lebanon High School, before the school’s concert band cabaret show fundraiser. Marshall had handed her a small card he is handing out to help with his fundraising to attend a dramatic arts school in New York City. Marshall and a group of community members were singing a song for the show. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Richard Otis, 17, of West Fairlee works to prepare for a reunion of Mountain School students in the Vershire school's kitchen. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Richard Otis, 17, of West Fairlee works to prepare for a reunion of Mountain School students in the Vershire school's kitchen. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Richard Otis, 17, of West Fairlee works to prepare for a reunion of Mountain School students in the Vershire school’s kitchen last week. Otis, who recently finished his spring semester at the Mountain School, is the recipient of a Leonore Annenberg Scholarship that will cover all of his college education and associated costs. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • John Marshall graduated from The Sharon Academy in 2012. He was accepted to a dramatic arts school in New York City, but will have to raise money to help pay for it. He was warming up at Lebanon High School to sing for a fundraiser for the Lebanon High School concert band. (Valey News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • John Marshall laughs with Lebanon High School performers Elise Ballard and Ali Coombs, right, before singing at a fundraiser for the Lebanon High School concert band. At left is Josh Feder, who was singing with Marshall and other community members at the event. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • John Marshall greets Karen McLellan, director of the drama program at Lebanon High School, before the school’s concert band cabaret show fundraiser. Marshall had handed her a small card he is handing out to help with his fundraising to attend a dramatic arts school in New York City. Marshall and a group of community members were singing a song for the show. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Richard Otis, 17, of West Fairlee works to prepare for a reunion of Mountain School students in the Vershire school's kitchen. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

At this time of year, with students graduating from high school, all eyes are on the future and what it might hold. But as students consider their careers, there’s another calculation on their minds: What will it cost to get there?

That’s especially true for students who come from low-income backgrounds or whose parents haven’t gone to college. A pair of Upper Valley students are getting their college futures in order in very different ways.

After a year off, John Marshall, a 2012 graduate of The Sharon Academy, is soliciting donations to pay for performing arts school in New York.

And with college over a year away, Richard Otis, a rising senior at Rivendell Academy in Orford, knows that his higher education is paid for, thanks to a Leonore Annenberg College Scholarship.

Their stories illustrate the challenges students face in trying to finance their future lives.

A Talent
Pursued

When he was a senior at The Sharon Academy, John Marshall had it all figured out.

Coming from modest financial circumstances, he felt he needed a solid career and a college degree that didn’t leave him with mountains of debt. He thought he’d go into engineering, study at a top school that offered major financial aid and find a way to accommodate his passion for the theater.

But that didn’t work as he planned. He didn’t get into Dartmouth College, which seemed like a natural place to study engineering while continuing to act. So he took a year off after graduating from high school in 2012. It was only then that he realized he was trying to force himself into an unsuitable life.

“This gap year just helped me figure this out, stop kidding myself,” Marshall, 19, said in an interview. He has spent the year acting, singing and dancing and is certain that this is what he should do with his life.

The more people he met during his gap year, the more he heard from them that he had a talent that deserved to be nurtured. “When they started telling me that this could be a career, I started to take it to heart,” Marshall said.

So he applied to Dartmouth again, with the same results. In the process, he realized that college probably wasn’t for him. High school hadn’t exactly been easy. Although he excelled in theater and won the Vermont Poetry Out Loud recitation contest as a sophomore, he struggled to connect in the classroom.

“It’s not that I didn’t get it,” he said. “It’s that I didn’t do the work a lot of the time.”

Sitting still in a classroom was always a challenge for Marshall. Like a lot of boys, he wanted to be in motion.

“I was this kid who bounced off the walls all the time,” Marshall said. He found his outlet at age 12 when he went to the Chelsea Funnery, a two-week summer camp in which students rehearse and perform a Shakespeare play outdoors. In addition to the Funnery he has acted in school, at the Chandler Center for the Arts and most recently at BarnArts Center for the Arts in Barnard.

Marshall’s engagement with the theater was such that it called to him at all times, said Michael Livingston, head of school at Sharon Academy. “It made it very difficult for him to focus on what seemed comparatively mundane,” Livingston said.

Since graduating, Marshall’s full immersion into the performing arts has changed his life. He is acting and taking lessons constantly, and his 2012 performance in North Country Community Theater’s production of The Music Man earned him an award for best actor in a community musical from the New Hampshire Theatre Awards. More importantly, he feels able to work toward a goal that aligns with his heart.

“He is freed at this point in a way that’s quite marvelous,” said Livingston. Marshall has been teaching a class in barbershop harmony at his alma mater.

He has also set up a website to draw attention to his fundraising efforts, johnjosephmarshall.wordpress.com. Marshall has been accepted to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in New York, a school founded by actor Richard Burton’s father in the 1960s. He was drawn to its practical education, which condenses two years’ worth of performing arts classes into 18 months, and to its location on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

But it costs $38,000 for two semesters, $76,000 in tuition, room and board for all four. Even with half of the sticker price covered by grants and loans, the remaining cost, which Marshall estimates at $60,000, a figure that includes money for books and incidentals, is far beyond his family’s reach.

Marshall’s father is a tile setter; his mother has stayed home to raise Marshall and his younger brother. Marshall could take out more loans, but he’s heading into “a career path that’s not friendly to loans,” he said.

So Marshall is setting up a page on Indiegogo, a “crowdfunding” website through which he can receive donations to help pay for his education.

He wouldn’t be the first student accepted at AMDA to pay for his education through fundraising, said Jamie French, an admissions adviser at the school. One student from Eastern Europe had his AMDA education funded by a resident of his town who had won the lottery. In other cases, a community or church has raised money to help a student with tuition, French said.

Asking for help is a bold step, Livingston said. It’s a sign that Marshall has a talent that he deserves a chance to develop.

“This is phenomenal risk-taking,” Livingston said. “I’m hoping that the community responds to that level of seriousness.”

Regardless of the outcome of his fundraising campaign, Marshall plans to forge ahead as best he can. “It’ll happen anyway,” he said. “I will find a way to make it work.” He will keep asking for help, for favors, and keep working.

“This is something of importance. This is something I need to do,” Marshall said.

A Scholarship

Although his parents didn’t attend college, Richard Otis has always had higher education in his plans. He wants to be an aerospace engineer.

At the start of high school at Rivendell Academy in Orford, he got connected with Upward Bound, a federal program that helps students of low income, whose parents haven’t been to college and who live in rural areas to prepare for college. There’s a chapter at Lyndon State College in Lyndonville, Vt.

Through Upward Bound, Otis, 17, had developed a list of colleges he was interested in attending, had taken practice SATs, had gone through financial aid forms and had spent six weeks each summer on a college campus. So when he learned that Rivendell Principal Keri Gelenian had nominated him for the Leonore Annenberg Scholarship, he was ready. After he applied, he had to sit for two phone interviews.

“I already had all the answers for them,” Otis said.

He was one of 10 recipients of the scholarship, which pays for tuition, room and board, a stipend for living expenses and a book allowance, regardless of what school he attends. He was the only recipient in New England this year.

The award means that as a senior, Otis will be able to concentrate on applying to a range of schools. He is looking at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Syracuse University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Otis is one of eight children. His three older sisters and older brother, who all went to Rivendell, have already blazed a trail to college from their West Fairlee home. Among his sisters, Julie Anne graduated from Smith College, Alisha attended Suffolk University in Boston for a time and Kristina is at Plymouth State University. Older brother Michael will be a junior at Castleton State in the fall. He also has three younger sisters.

Otis’ grade point average puts him at the top of his class, and he spent the past semester at The Mountain School, a rigorous academic program for high school juniors based in Vershire. As a senior, he expects to have a choppy schedule, with classes at Rivendell and at Dartmouth, and work at The Mountain School.

Word of the scholarship, announced at an assembly, led to spontaneous and explosive applause, Gelenian said. “Everyone was proud of what he did,” he added.

Gelenian, for one, wants more; more experiences for Rivendell students and more opportunities for higher education. He would like to see more students in Upward Bound, for example.

“There is a lot of stuff out there,” he said. The challenge is in communicating it to students.

The Annenberg scholarship removes from Otis’ shoulders one of the big burdens facing students and their families: How to pay for college. Gelenian said he counsels students to apply to schools, regardless of the sticker price, but it’s a high hurdle.

“They don’t understand that they have the full potential to get a full scholarship somewhere,” he said. “You don’t know what you might get from a school.”

Without his scholarship, Richard Otis said he felt as if his college options were limited. No school in Vermont offers an aeronautical engineering major, so to take advantage of the lower in-state tuition he would have had to alter his planned course of study. He could have gone to the University of Vermont and studied civil engineering, he said.

Instead, he has an opportunity to see how far his academic ability can take him.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3219.