what's next for area seniors?

Northeast Mississippi high school seniors

talk of terrorist attacks

From staff reports

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Northeast Mississippi high school seniors have seen uncertainty creep into their plans for the future with concerns about a possible war, military draft and concern for family and friends, as well as a lagging economy.

But those interviewed who already had plans for college said they will follow through with those plans although others say they have been motivated by the attacks to consider joining the military upon graduation rather than seeking a job.

Daily Journal reporters recently visited four area high schools - Booneville, North Pontotoc, Saltillo and Tupelo - for interview sessions with groups of students, some in class settings and others outside of class.

"We realized it was a terrorist attack and we knew it was history in the making," Booneville High School Principal Rickey Neaves said of his school's decision to allow students to watch the news that unfolded Sept. 11 on television.

Administrators and staff thought it best to allow students to watch the news coverage so that they could discuss their fears, Neaves said.

Students were informed that the draft might be reinstated but that they would have to go on with their lives, he said. The aspect of war, loss of lives and the effect on the economy were also discussed, Neaves said.

"It is pretty tough times for them," he said.

Booneville American government teacher Michael Smith sets aside at least one day a week to discuss current events, but he said most days the subject always gets back to the attack on America.

Several students in Karen McLaughlin's senior U.S. government class at North Pontotoc Attendance Center said, while the events of Sept. 11 have affected their lives, none were putting off college or career plans, although several have members of the military in their immediate families.

"My brother's in the first group to be shipped to Russia, if they go," Keenan Hendrix said. "My dad's retired military and he'll be called back."

Joshua Russell plans to be even more personally involved.

"If we go to war, I'm joining the military," he said.

At Tupelo High School, at least one member of the student council said he still plans to attend college, but wouldn't try and avoid service if a military draft were reinstated.

"If that's my job I would have to fulfill it," said 17-year-old Justin Carlisle. "It's something I would have to do."

If the draft is reinstated, Booneville student Daniel Johnson said he will enlist in the Marines before being drafted and Lashana Sorrell's plans to enlist in the National Guard have not changed.

Brooks Prather, another Booneville student, said he would be afraid, but if drafted, "I would be ready to go."

New career options have also opened up as a result of the tragedy. Jarod Grimes of Booneville said he may pursue a career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the U.S. Marshal Service.

Kate Jacobson, Tupelo student council president, expressed regret over the lack of woman allowed into battle positions in the military but said she does get a sense of an increased interest among male students to join the military.

"A lot of people want to do everything they can and I've heard guys say they think maybe they do need to go into the military after high school," Jacobson said.

"It's been a big discussion at my house whether to sign up (for the military)," said Stephen Roberts, a senior at Saltillo High School. "I was going - I am going - into the ministry, so it's a big choice to make."

If the U.S. goes to war and there is a draft, Linkie Badenhorst, a South Africa native whose family came to the United States because they believed it was safer than South Africa, realizes her classmates could be called.

"All the people our age will be gone," said Badenhorst, a Saltillo senior.

While the attacks did not have a direct effect on students interviewed, many said they have experienced the same renewal of patriotism sweeping the country and say they believe a war on terrorism is justified.

Heather Gausline, a Saltillo senior, said the attacks have had an effect.

"It doesn't affect us like it does the people in New York and Washington, because it's not our families," Gausline said. "But we're all connected."

Amanda Aron of North Pontotoc emphasized positive responses from the crisis.

"I think it's brought the country together," said Aron, whose class senior trip, originally planned for Greece, will instead go now to Cozumel and Cancun, Mexico, as a result of the attacks.

"I will not fly again any time soon." Cammie Bishop, a Booneville senior, said.

Saltillo's Badenhorst said she is angry at the Taliban for the attacks and for the way they treat women in their country.

"I won't consider it a war against people, against human beings," Badenhorst said. "I think it will be a war against animals."

Saltillo's Stephen Roberts said he doesn't know much about the Muslim faith but doesn't think Muslims in general should be held responsible.

"It's the radical Muslims," he said. "It's not all their faults. Their beliefs are different but when it comes down to it, we believe in the same God. They just call him a different name."

Regard-less of what the future brings, the students all agreed that the events of Sept. 11 will forever change their view of the world.

"It changed our lives in the matter of a morning," said Tupelo student council member Willie Williams.

"We thought that we were untouchable but we're not," said Kiri Beard, a Booneville senior.

"It will never get back to how it was," said Booneville senior Josh Wright.

But the graduating seniors also agreed that they and the rest of the nation will recover from the events.

"I think everybody is ready to move on," said Tupelo's Carlisle. "I think everybody wants to put it behind us and move on."

Daily Journal staff writers Jane Clark Summers, Errol Castens, Sandi Pullen and Marty Russell contributed to this report.

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