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They had big dreams when they left Haverford High School, to attend top-notch universities, launch lucrative careers in their chosen fields — medicine, journalism, law, and science — and one day start families.

In 1987, five Haverford High School seniors, along with their parents, shared in a series of Inquirer articles by staff writer Suzanne Gordon a personal look into their lives as they navigated the application and financial-aid process and their transition to freshman year.

No one remembers how those five were selected to be profiled from their class of about 450. All were high-achievers and student leaders, and all were ranked as commended scholars or semifinalists in the National Merit program, among the highest scorers on the PSAT.

Of course, some of their lives took different directions than anticipated, and some remained committed to their original career goals.

Thirty-five years later, they reminisce about how their futures were shaped by those school days, what’s transpired since, and what advice they offer to future generations of students.

David R. Harris

Current occupation: college president

Harris was all set to go to Northwestern University and pursue his dream of becoming a broadcast journalist. He loved math, science, and Late Night With David Letterman, and thought it would be fun to talk to different people on various topics. He wanted a career where he could “just think.”

“It seems like the greatest job would be to be like Socrates,” Harris told The Inquirer then. “But you can’t do that anywhere.”

What would you tell your 18-year-old self?
“It’s OK to not know what you want to do. Be flexible, and try lots of things.”

A basic writing course at Northwestern in which he was required to complete a two-page paper every day, however, convinced Harris that he had chosen the wrong major.

Turns out: “I didn’t like to write,” he said. He preferred his physics and calculus classes, and just three weeks into the semester changed his major to civil engineering — but that didn’t seem right, either.

“I just thought, maybe college wasn’t for me,” recalled Harris, a first-generation college student. For a fleeting moment, he pondered moving to Arizona to become a motorcycle cop.

Harris eventually found his passion, earning a bachelor’s in human development and social policy from Northwestern in 1991 and a Ph.D. in sociology in 1997.

He met his wife, Anne, at Northwestern, and they have three daughters. His career in academia has included stints at Cornell University as a sociology professor and Tufts University as chief academic officer.

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In July 2018, Harris was named president of Union College, the first Black man to hold that position at the private liberal arts college in Schenectady, N.Y.

Always mindful of his working-class roots, Harris has advocated for diversity, equity, and inclusion, launching a capital campaign that this month surpassed its $300 million goal nearly a year ahead of schedule, and an initiative that would allow all students to participate in extracurricular activities.

Harris plans to continue his work around race and poverty, a nod to his parents, Robert, a paint store salesman, and his mother, Julia, a part-time Mary Kay representative. His father died in 1999, and his mother, two weeks before he became Union’s president.

“It’s a long way from where I started,” Harris said. ”I feel very lucky to go from that kid who needed financial aid to a college president.”

Jennifer Conahan

Current occupation: teacher

Ranked No. 1 in her class, Conahan was considering a career as a doctor or a teacher. She started off pre-med at Princeton University but was miserable, switching to anthropology.

A senior thesis project that focused on education was key to eventually discovering her passion, but after graduating in 1991, Conahan still enrolled in medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. It took her only six weeks to change her mind.

“Right away, I knew it wasn’t the choice for me,” she recalled.

Conahan took a leave of absence from medical school but knew it was unlikely she would ever return. Instead, she moved to Chicago and taught second graders for three years through the Inner-City Teaching Corps program. She never looked back.

She returned to Pennsylvania and earned her teaching certification at Penn. She landed a job in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District, where she began her 21st year in September as a fifth-grade teacher. She plans to teach for about 10 more years.

“It’s a wonderful career,” Conahan said. “I consider it a real privilege.”

Conahan said she had considered a medical career at a time when young girls were being encouraged to pursue science and engineering, and her father, Tom, was an associate professor of anesthesiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

“I was never 100% sure about being a doctor,” she said. “I don’t think I had things all worked out in my head.”

What would you tell your 18-year-old self?
“Take your time. You don’t have to figure out everything right way. Don’t worry about fulfilling a self-imposed timeline.”

A shy teenager, Conahan said she mainly hung out with her sisters Kristen and Heather. She was involved with the marching band, swim team, photography, and yearbook staff.

Now, Conahan, 53, lives in Media on the same street as sister Heather, enjoying spending time with her family. She never had children, but dotes on her niece and four nephews, and has been engaged for 12 years to her partner, Lee. (”We’re not in a hurry,” she said with a smile.)

John H. Doe

Current occupation: chief scientist

Guidance counselors encouraged students to select a “dream school,” a “sure-shot,” and a few in between. An aspiring scientist and 11th in his graduating class, Doe initially wanted to go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to major in physics because of its reputation.

Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh was where he ended up. He changed his major from physics to computer science to please his parents and planned to write science fiction.

Doe, 52, a chief scientist with Mind AI Inc. in Seoul, South Korea, laughed when asked whether he landed where he thought he would and whether there were any surprises in life.

“Ha! It’s been nothing but,” Doe wrote in an email. “Didn’t think I would live this long (smiley face).”

He also didn’t write science fiction, but he did write two memoirs that some reviews report might read as such.

While at Carnegie Mellon, he began learning programming languages such as Scheme, Lisp, and C, and has been researching and developing artificial intelligence software for more than a decade.

Born in Korea, Doe was 6 when he came to the United States in 1975 as Jang Do. When he was in the second grade, he decided to be John and persuaded his family to add an “e” to their last name. In doing so, he didn’t realize he had chosen a placeholder name, the generic everyman.

In a 2009 interview with the New York Times, Doe said he had gotten used to the raised eyebrows from people who think he’s using a fake name.

“I say my name is John Doe and they say, ‘No, what’s your real name?’ and I pull out my ID,” he said. He occasionally uses his initial, H., for Hyun, “to give myself a little character.”

What would you tell your 18-year-old self?
Nothing. “Wouldn’t have listened.”

A black belt in karate, Doe excelled academically at Haverford. He was among six National Merit semifinalists from Haverford in 1987. He retook the college boards, despite scoring 1400 the first time.

Doe, who never married or had children, rarely gets back to Havertown since his mother died. He says his high school years were “two lifetimes ago,” and the memories are somewhat hazy.

What would he tell his younger self? Nothing, he said. “Wouldn’t have listened.”

Candice Polsky

Current occupation: lawyer

After studying civics in high school, Polsky decided she wanted to become a lawyer. She initially set her sights on attending Harvard but landed at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

Her mother, Barbara, believed that career would suit Candice. Her father, Allen, made three bids for the state legislature.

“She makes her point well. She’s very convincing,” her mother said at the time. “She is very determined and does things well.”

What would you tell your 18-year-old self?
“Have a broader perspective. Don’t have your head down all of the time. You have the whole world in front of you.”

Described as poised and reserved in high school, Polsky was an avid reader and especially enjoyed Stephen King novels. Ranked 16th in the class, she served as president of the student Senate, reported news on the school’s radio station, and participated in marching band.

“I loved high school,” she recalled. “I just tried to get out of it what I could.”

After graduating from Duke with a degree in English, she earned her law degree from Villanova in 1994. She worked for Arthur Andersen, Ernst & Young, and practiced tax law for several years, hoping to make partner.

Polsky became disenchanted by what she described as office politics, which made it difficult to advance.

“I was a little naïve,” she said. “I believed if you work hard enough and are smart enough, you can do anything.”

Polsky, 52, said she loves her current job, director of state and local tax for Urban Outfitters, and is much happier. She moved back to Havertown in 2009, to be closer to her family. She has a daughter, Natalie, 14, a sophomore at her alma mater.

“I learned a lot on the way,” she said. “It made me who I am today.”

S. Deniz Bucak

Current occupation: data analyst

In the ninth grade, Bucak made a big announcement: He planned to attend MIT and become a physicist. He also applied to Princeton, to possibly follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, father, and three uncles.

The Turkish-born Bucak studied diligently to overcome the learning challenges he faced when he moved to the United States at 6. He learned English in the first grade and became an avid reader, often checking out loads of library books.

While in high school, Bucak attended college summer camps, studying physics, astronomy, and statistics. He scored 1490 on the college boards and was 10th in the class. He was also a National Merit semifinalist.

“I was happy in high school,” Bucak, 53, recalled. “I had my circle of friends.”

Much to his disappointment, he wasn’t accepted at MIT. Instead, he attended Cornell University and loved it. He obtained a bachelor’s in physics and math in 1991.

Bucak had planned to pursue an academic career, attend graduate school, and possibly become a college professor. Those plans were thwarted when he began suffering from severe depression during his senior year in college. He sought treatment in 1997.

“I thought I would be teaching. I thought I was going to discover the grand unified theory in physics, and I didn’t,” he said with a smile. “There’s certainly been challenges.”

What would you tell your 18-year-old self?
“Put more effort into getting medical attention for the depression.”

But Bucak put his math and statistics skills to use, first as a market research statistician and later as a statistical modeling expert with the Franklin Mint near Media.

Since 2004, Bucak has been a data analyst with the National Board of Medical Examiners in Philadelphia. He assembles assessments and exams for the board, which licenses and certifies doctors.

Married for 25 years, Bucak and his wife, Gabrielle, have two children: Audrey, a freshman at Cornell, and Devin, a junior at Drexel University. He lives a few blocks from Haverford High and keeps up with some classmates through social media.

“I’m in comfortable middle age,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the end of my career and retirement.”