LIMA — The average graduating senior in the class of 2018 was born at the turn of the century — in 2000 — 18 years ago.
They were infants when terrorists crashed passenger airplanes into the Twin Towers, four when social media first became prevalent, seven when smartphones were first released, nine when the first black president took office and 17 when President Trump replaced him.
Over the last 18 years, they’ve watched these events unfold through the lens of Lima. And now, they are tasked with a decision: Should they stay or should they go? Do Lima’s students believe in the opportunities in the region? Or would they rather take a chance, look to the horizon and ensure Lima never becomes anything more than their place of origin?
Over the last few weeks, The Lima News has interviewed 30 of the roughly 1,000 graduating seniors from the seven high schools closest to Lima’s center — Temple Christian, Lima Central Catholic, Shawnee, Elida, Perry, Lima Senior and Bath — to learn about the next steps of Lima’s youngest adults and understand if their time here has convinced them that Lima has more to offer.
Due to the limitations of space, comments cannot be included from every single student interviewed, but a few commonalities emerged as data was gathered and analyzed. From the college-bound overachiever to the world traveler looking to the military as a way out, most students fell into a career plan replicated by other students at other high schools across town.
Most notably, although many had chosen different routes after graduation, students could agree on a few issues. And some of those ideas have played a significant role in influencing their career paths.
Nothing to Do. No Opportunities
According to Lima’s teens, there are precisely three things to do in Lima: go to the movies, go bowling and if they’re really bored, go to the mall. Of course, one can talk to teenagers everywhere, and the complaint of “nothing to do” is heard often enough. But the idea might be worth exploring, especially as the complaint is often rehashed by those attending four-year institutions or considering the military.
“All there is to do in this town is go get food and sit at home. There should be other shops, more attractions,” said Cassadi Chamon of LCC, who is planning to attend Wright State.
For most future college students, which make up roughly two-thirds of Lima’s overall 2018 graduating class, leaving Lima is expected as soon as college becomes the expected course. And although some expressed desires to return home to improve their communities, it’s not the norm as many college-bound students don’t expect jobs that require their skill sets to be readily available in the region once they gain their degree.
“I’m not coming back to Lima. I don’t feel like I want to come back here, not saying that it’s a bad thing. I just wanna explore as big as I can go,” said Madison Williams of Elida, who is attending University of Cincinnati for social work this fall.
The mass migration to college and outside of rural communities of the younger generations isn’t a new problem, and it’s been a common concern for those involved in workforce development and retainment.
Admittedly, there has been some movement to stop the flow out of the county. For example, Tim Cheeseman, guidance counselor at Shawnee High School, has seen a recent decrease of the number of those with plans to attend college. He’s also seen an uptick in students considering two-year and apprenticeship programs, which could be due to an active presence by OhioMeansJobs in the schools, Cheeseman said.
“They still aren’t asking me if I want to go to college,” said Abbi Moore of Bath, who has plans of entering the workforce after graduation. “They’re asking, ‘What jobs do you want to apply to?’”
At other schools, however, such as LCC, college is still the de facto choice for four out of five students, especially for those who have access to the financial resources to make it work. Students who may not be willing to take on the debt of an education may look elsewhere to escape from Lima.
“I think Bath really knows the cost of college, how it’s going up. It’s almost a waste of time because you’re spending so much money on college and you might not make it up,” said Codie Armentrout of Bath, who will be taking his first steps with the Marine Corps this summer.
But for families with students heavily involved scholastically, many of those student have seen that college is the ticket out of the region, and the majority seem to want bigger and better things than what Lima has to offer.
“That’s another reason we’re all excited to go to college, too is, like, new people, new things to explore and adventure,” said Jordan Crates of Elida, who is attending Bowling Green State University for inclusive early childhood education. “I would, like — I want to join a sorority. That’s a new experience. I don’t get to do that, like, here. That’s another reason I’m excited for college.”
Downtown and Urban Decay
For those who have grown up in Lima, the ever-lurking presence of rundown buildings is hard to ignore. And it’s a reminder that Lima has a way to go before it is perceived as a place of opportunity for graduating seniors.
More than even the heated discussions on the lack of good restaurants or entertaining venues, students brought up urban decay and a lackadaisical downtown area as examples of Lima’s failure to excite. That said, Lima students may not be aware of the many private and public entities currently addressing the problem, and there is quite a few who have made real progress in dealing with this issue. But their comments show how big of a yoke the run-down buildings have on the perception of Lima.
“I wouldn’t go downtown to shop,” said Ella Deamotte of LCC, who has plans to transfer to St. Logan College to become a chiropractor. Ella was just one student in the group from LCC who had some strong views on downtown and its current standing. A few individuals said they didn’t feel safe near Town Square, or much of anywhere in Lima proper, although they admitted the downtown had potential.
“I think that’s, like, I think that maybe if we changed that idea it could be, like, a really cool place to hang out and have good restaurants and shops,” Chamon said.
“Well, if we could clean it up a little bit. Like, I saw a guy sleeping on the sidewalk,” Deamotte said.
“I lived here for 18 years and I think I can legitimately say I’ve been like downtown for a whole day … maybe two days, my whole life. I never go downtown.” said Dru Smith of LCC, who plans on attending the University of Cinncinnati. “I didn’t know what the Hollander was until a week ago.”
“They’re doing a good job. It seems like they’re cleaning it up and there’s more things going on downtown, but it’s still not ideal. I know, like, downtown, that like more shops are starting to open up but people are like I know like in my experience people are skeptical,” Chamon said.
“You see so many empty buildings, but you see these construction companies tearing down trees and everything. Just like, go to where these empty buildings are. Like there’s so many of them. Like downtown, there’s so many empty buildings. You go down Elida road. I see restaurants not used, the Kmart complex, that entire thing, and they just tore up the whole lot in front of [Buffalo Wild Wings]. Gone,” Crates said.
“I think that’s another reason why we get a bad rep because we have these empty buildings, and they’re like, ‘Let’s do something with them,’ but we never do,” said Ethan DeLeon of Elida, who is attending Southeastern University for business.
“All these abandoned buildings are opportunities, but nobody does it,” said Mark Crockett of Lima Senior, attending Wright State for pre-med.
”No one wants to invest in Lima,” Williams of Elida said.
“We need more motivation around here,” said Byron James of Lima Senior, who is attending Troy Hobart Trade School. “I know there’s wealthy people in Lima. I know there’s some. I see cars all the time out on Cable Road and things like that.”
The Ones Who Stay
For the one-third of students who aren’t heading out of Lima, they’re happy with the opportunities that Lima does present them. Many are considering fields in healthcare or in manufacturing. A few are headed straight into the workforce with considerations of heading to college once they’re a little more grounded financially.
A few attending four-year institutions have plans to come back if the opportunity presents itself. Crockett of Lima Senior, who does well in school, wants to get a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Degree before finding employment with Mercy Health-St Rita’s. He said he hopes to be able to jump a social class when he returns.
“I’ve done everything from this perspective, from being a high school student perspective, from being a black teenager perspective,” Crockett said. “I’ve never done anything as a doctor, you know what I mean, in Lima. Home is home, so I can go to Bahamas, so I can take my family on vacations in the future, but I’ll always have home, which will be Lima which will be the only place I know. … So it’s a way to fall back here I would say. … Just being on this side of the incidents, you see someone get shot. Well, I can be on the side where I can save somebody after the gunshot.”
Other students have less lofty goals but want to come back to Lima nonetheless if they can find work.
“Once I come back from college, if it’s like appealing to me, I’ll probably stay,” Chamon said. The thought was echoed by Nick Azzarello of Shawnee, as well as the students of Temple Christian, who, because of the school’s small class size and the relationships they’ve made, consider Lima their homes, though most plan to obtain four-year degrees.
Others like Mark Fleming of Shawnee, who will be starting an apprenticeship with Grob, enjoy the country lifestyle and don’t see the appeal of larger cities that may tempt classmates. Fleming is similar to the small percentage of those who have seen Lima as a great place to settle down.
“For me, most of the time the vibes are good in this town… but there could definitely be more things to do, but like, I think it’s a nice little town to grow up in as a kid. I grew up in a nice environment, good friends, good people, so overall Lima’s a pretty good town to grow up in,” Smith said.
“I love it here. I don’t care about the backstabber or nothing like that — or people who try to bring other people down. I support the ones that are doing something and that’s about it,” James said.
“I kind of just want to have the stuff I couldn’t have when I was little. So, like a nice car and a nice house.” Armentrout said.
“ I feel ya on that one,” Moore said. “My car sounds like a lawnmower now.”
“Make like the good old American choice,” Armentrout replied.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.