By Helena Rodriguez: PNT correspondent
Many soon-to-be Portales High School graduates will dive straight into the workforce or head to college over the next few months.
Steven Howard, however, may be living in a hut in Africa, learning Swahili.
Howard, a PHS track standout and ballet dancer, has signed to serve two years in a mission overseas. The mission is being organized through his church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Howard would like to go to Africa. While he is still uncertain of where he will be assigned and what exact conditions he will live under, he said he is ready to do without some conveniences he is used to here in the United States.
“I’m not really material-oriented, and a lot of it is really mental, in your head,” Howard said. “I feel that as long as you go for the Lord, as long as you do something for the right reason, then you should be fine.”
Howard said he is the only PHS senior, as far as he knows, who has committed to a mission project right now. However, he said he does know of students in other grades and schools interested in mission work.
According to PHS counselor Thomas Tafoya, 139 students will receive high school diplomas on Friday at Greyhound Arena.
“My guess would be that at least 70 percent of our graduates are going to a post-secondary school,” Tafoya said.
“I would say this is not any different than last year. We still have a good number of students who want to go to school, but if anything, with the economy bad, students know that the government can help them go to school with lottery scholarships. If they cannot find a job, at least they can get an education.”
He said the class is just a bit smaller than last year’s graduating class.
As for his quickly approaching graduation, Howard said, “I’m excited to see what is in store. I’m also kind of nervous, though, because now I have to make my own decisions. My last full day of school was Thursday, and so now I’m done.”
He added, “I was giving advice to a sophomore last night, and I was like ‘Man, I’m old!’”
When he returns from mission, Howard plans to attend college and pursue a career in physical therapy and coaching.
He said his parents, John and Sayma Howard, are supportive of his childhood dream to go on a mission.
“A lot of peers think that my plans are different, but they don’t look down on it,” Howard said. “Portales is a pretty religious town, and the coaches like the fact that I am going. I do get a lot of questions from people, though.”
According to Howard, the only downside to his mission plans is that he will not qualify for the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship because of the two-year gap before entering college. However, he said many colleges he has talked to have been understanding, and will even hold some of the scholarships he has received until he returns.
When Howard returns, he said, he will most likely complete his basics at Eastern New Mexico University.
Howard said the mission program is culture-oriented. All missionaries will be expected to live under the same conditions as the native people.
For example, he said if he is assigned to Africa, he will most likely live in a hut.
What: Portales High School graduation
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Greyhound Arena
Go figure: 139 students will graduate