Alumni share their career stories with Killingly students

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Dec. 16, 2013
(L to r) Hunter Lyon, Hoween Flexer and Brandon Martins spoke to Killingly students. Photos by D. Coffey.
(L to r) Hunter Lyon, Hoween Flexer and Brandon Martins spoke to Killingly students. Photos by D. Coffey.

Killingly High School students were given an opportunity to hear from six alumni on Dec. 6. The speaker series brought together recent graduates and seasoned professionals who shared their stories about how they made career decisions.

The event was the brainchild of Hoween Flexer, a 2000 KHS graduate and member of the Killingly Board of Education. The event was meant to give students a chance to hear how some alumns had gotten to where they were, what decisions they made along the way that helped them, what they wished they had done better, and what advice they could give to students following in their paths.

Flexer, University of Massachusetts Memorial Hospital Vice President of Nursing Jay Cyr, Connecticut State Trooper Patrick Dragon, KHS math teacher Amanda Bessenaire, and 2011 and 2012 graduates Hunter Lyon and Brandon Martins talked about the paths they had taken in their post-secondary lives.

The event was championed by Superintendent Kevin Farr. “My mission is to make education a number-one priority in this community, so each of you has the opportunity to reach your personal potential,” Farr said. This program will help plant the seeds of success, he said. Speakers were scheduled to talk with students in grades three and four, and seven through 12.

The earlier students start thinking about career choices, the better, said KHS career coordinator Karen Lagace. “This was a chance to introduce kids to the people who’ve graduated and had success. It stresses the importance of school and education.” 

It was also a chance to stress the demand for continual education, no matter what one’s field. “I learn something new every day,” Farr said. “I don’t pretend to know everything. It’s about the relationships that you develop. And it begins in Goodyear.”

If the students took anything from the presentation it was that career paths are as different as the people who follow them. Dragon said he knew that he wanted to work in law enforcement or fire-fighting when he was in the third grade. Martins decided to study early childhood education in his last year at Killingly High. 

While Martins has a program of study to follow at Wheaton College, Dragon’s path had more twists and turns in it. Because it took time to be accepted into a competitive police academy program, he built up his credentials. He attended the Thames Valley Technical and Norwich Technical schools. He volunteered as a firefighter and EMT in Brooklyn. Now he uses that education as a fire investigator with the state.

“You’ll be tested constantly out there,” he said. “Apply yourself now to study English, math, history and science. There isn’t a job that won’t challenge you in that way.”

Cyr admitted that he wasn’t a great student in high school. “I had to go to college for a year to prove that I was serious,” he said. When he went for nursing in 1976, it took him a while to feel comfortable in a program where he was the only male. That came on the day he helped save a man who went into cardiac arrest. “I walked proudly after that,” he said.

“Study on a regular basis,” he advised. “It makes a difference. If you play sports or are in the band, you practice and get better at what you do." Cyr’s experience is proof. He has continued his education, getting a master's degree in nursing, then in business administration. He speaks at conferences and has published in several industry journals. “Now I have an influence on many patients by directing nurses,” he said.

The panel took questions after the presentation. Their advice was direct and positive. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something, Flexer said. Be confident about what you’re passionate about, said Martins. Make a point of speaking with your professors in college, Cyr advised. Seek out study groups and tutoring support, Bessenaire advised.

All said they wished they had filled out more scholarship applications. “Believe me, you don’t want to be in debt,” said Lyons. Bessenaire wished she had listened to guidance director Kevin Marcoux. “I had to work full time when I went to school. It was hard,” she said.

Each panelist acknowledged teachers in their past who had helped them. For Flexer, that teacher was chemistry teacher John Listori. “I failed his class,” she said. “I had a hard time with that, but I learned I shouldn’t be a chemist or scientist.” 

Lyon was generous in his praise. “Teachers care about their students,” he said, “even those who gave me a hard time. I appreciate them all.”

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