Class of 2009: Cathryn Nakhornsak gets a head start on college

Editor's Note: This is the first in an ongoing series of stories focusing on some of the upcoming graduates of Worthington High School. WORTHINGTON -- Earlier this week, Cathryn "Cat" Nakhornsak realized that it was exactly two months until the d...

Cathryn Nakhornsak

Editor's Note: This is the first in an ongoing series of stories focusing on some of the upcoming graduates of Worthington High School.

WORTHINGTON -- Earlier this week, Cathryn "Cat" Nakhornsak realized that it was exactly two months until the day she will graduate from Worthington High School.

"I'm really excited, but really nervous," admitted the 17-year-old senior, who continues to vacillate between choices of colleges and career aspirations.

Although heading off to college is both a thrilling and daunting prospect, Cat has already experienced a taste of college life. She is enrolled in the post-secondary education option (PSEO) program and currently takes most of her classes at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington campus, allowing her to get some of her college generals out of the way.


"I have one class at the high school. I didn't want to miss out on the whole senior thing," she explained.

The daughter of Tang Manivong and Phon Nakhornsak of Worthington, Cat was born in Fresno, Calif., but moved with her family to Worthington when she was too young to remember. She is the youngest of four children with two older brothers and one older sister and is the only one born in the U.S., after her family emigrated from Laos.

"Since I was a baby, this is pretty much home," Cat said.

In order to qualify for the PSEO program, Cat explained, "You have to be at least in the top half of your class, and your credits have to be in line, and you have to have (taken) all the required classes."

Cat was a bit nervous about taking the college classes at first, but there are other high school students also taking advantage of the opportunity, including a couple of her close friends. They especially enjoy being able to take a longer lunch break than their peers at WHS.

"The atmosphere is a lot different at the college," she said. "It's a much more mature vibe than at the high school. ... I wish I'd done (college option) sooner, like in my junior year. Free college."

Cat's current college schedule includes Composition II, College Algebra, Speech and American Pop Music. At WHS, she's had Ceramics II and is taking Cultures and Cuisine for her final quarter. Although most of her time is spent on the Minnesota West campus instead of the WHS campus, she remains involved in high school activities, including serving as president of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) chapter.

"So far, we've helped with Special Olympics, Halloween at Pioneer Village and done the holiday cookies and crafts for kids," she detailed, adding with a grimace, "I had to play Mrs. Santa Claus. I guess it's a president thing."


Through the Nobles County Integration Collaborative, Cat's been in Dynamic 507 -- a group that meets weekly to foster empowerment and dynamic leadership -- since her freshman year.

"I also do Circle mentoring," she added. "I have two students this year. One of the girls, her mom tells me she enjoys that time with me, so I guess I'm making a difference in their lives."

Cat has been gainfully employed since 2005 at the Worthington Pizza Ranch, where she has been promoted to supervisor. She enjoys overseeing the kitchen operations and interacting with her fellow employees.

"It's the people that make me stay here," she said.

Between college and high school classes, volunteering and activities and work, Cat seems to always be running someplace, finding time for homework in her meager down time.

"Sometimes I don't get much sleep," she admitted. "Sometimes I just crash, and then I'm good to go for the next 30 days."

With just two months until graduation day, choosing a college is beginning to weigh heavy on Cat's mind. She's got it narrowed down to the University of Minnesota or the College of St. Catherine, both in the Twin Cities.

"It's coming down to that decision," she said. "I'm trying to weigh the pros and cons. ... I've been accepted to both. I need to sit down and write a list of what's better for me."


Although she's never visited there, it's the campus, student-to-teacher ratio and independent class time that intrigue Cat about St. Kate's -- and knowing that two of her best friends are going there. The size of the U of M campus is a bit overwhelming, Cat acknowledged, although she's impressed by its academic reputation and rank.

Cat just wants to make sure she's making the best possible decision, knowing it will affect the rest of her life.

"(My parents) keep asking which one I'm going to go to," Cat related. "They really want me to go to Mankato (Minnesota State University), but I don't want to go there. I know they're proud of me."

As far as a course of study, Cat is considering a major in sociology/human development, although she's not sure what type of career that will lead to.

"I haven't narrowed it down," she admitted. "It's such a broad thing. ... I see myself -- well, I've always wanted to travel, travel around to other countries and helping out -- but I can also see myself in a corporate office. There are so many opportunities to narrow down. I want to be successful, but I want to help other people."

As she ponders the myriad possibilities that are available for her future, Cat is aware that she has an amazing opportunity that wasn't possible for her parents.

"I have that drive to do well in life, with both family and school," she reflected. "I knew school was important, but I didn't realize how important until I got to high school. My parents -- for them it's still a struggle. For me, I want to build a better life -- although we have a house, good-paying jobs -- and give my children what I didn't have."


Cathryn Nakhornsak (center) is flanked by friends and fellow volunteers Susana Murillo (left) and Yuricza Arauz.

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