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Student speaker's path follows circuitous route

Kristen B. Morales

December 13, 2017

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Sammie Napierala is calm. Focused, even.

She is speaking to a hundred or so of her fellow University of Georgia College of education graduates in a matter of days, and yet she approaches her speech similarly to how she has approached other challenges along her educational journey—just roll with it, and it will probably turn out just fine.

Napierala, who is graduating with a B.S.Ed. in early childhood education, is the student speaker at the College of Education's fall Graduation Convocation. She applied to be a speaker in a low-key way—she thought it might be an interesting thing to do, but was hesitant because she was unsure of the competition—but her ideas persevered.

Now, as her classmates gather for the fall Convocation, they can learn more about how her transfer to the University of Georgia and her time spent in Scotland during a Maymester study abroad trip have helped guide her choices both in and out of the classroom.

"I had always in the back of my head wanted to do education," she said. And after graduating from Collins Hill High School in Gwinnett County, she enrolled at the University of Alabama—her high test scores translated into a good scholarship package. But something still didn't quite fit, she said. "At the time I didn't know my major; I didn't have a car and I didn't know anyone."

It's easy to feel untethered when dropped into a new situation, and this was the case with Napierala. She also didn't find a home among the school's Panhellenic community, so she decided she needed some time to work out a new plan.

"I never really found my place, so I transferred in the spring (of 2015) to Georgia Gwinnett College to regroup," she said. "I got all my core classes there."

Then, when she decided to pursue education, the planets aligned: All of her previous credits transferred. Between her previous coursework and AP credits, she is still able to graduate a semester early, despite transferring twice in her college career.

But Napierala is calm, even about that fortunate turn of events.

For now, she has found a sweet spot between two worlds of early childhood education—a part-time job at a preschool and a long-term substituting job at a nearby elementary school teaching first grade. It's enough to keep her in the game until the fall, when a new challenge begins: Graduate school.

"I've always loved school, and as I've gone through my program, I always wanted to get my gifted certificate," she said. Then she realized that while the certificate is available as an undergraduate by taking a few specific courses, she could continue at UGA to pursue a master's degree in the subject as well. "When I found out about the gifted and creative education program, I realized I'd rather get my master's degree."