Stanbridge graduate and employee at Always Quilting
Sarah Carlson is a Class of 2013 Stanbridge graduate. As graduation approached for her, Sarah realized that a traditional four-year college was not the right fit for her future aspirations. A talented artist (who received the 2013 Visual Arts Award at commencement), Sarah joined the workforce after graduating from Stanbridge, taking a job at Always Quilting in San Mateo—a venue that allows her to share her love of embroidery with customers of all ages.
Below is an interview with Sarah from 2017. In it, Sarah discusses how she made a conscious choice to forego college, and how pursuing her passion and staying true to herself has been a remarkably rewarding experience.
Similar to most other millennials, Stanbridge Academy alumna Sarah Carlson grew up believing the only acceptable post-secondary option was enrolling at a four-year university. “I was brought up always thinking that going to college is what you do after you graduate from high school,” said Sarah. “It was hard to accept that college just wasn’t going to be right for me.”
While some of her peers in the Class of 2013 matriculated to various post-secondary schools and programs, Sarah—with the support of her family—chose the road less-traveled. “Some kids in my class did the Foothill Transition to Work (TTW) program, but I already had a job. I didn’t fit that mold,” said Sarah. “Going to a regular four-year college wasn’t going to help me achieve any of my long-terms goals either. I didn’t need a degree to do what I was passionate about.”
Since sixth grade, Sarah had been attending a summer camp at a local quilting shop. “I kept going and learning every summer, until one day I started helping and teaching the younger kids,” said Sarah. “Based on my volunteer work, they offered me a job after graduation.”
Today, Sarah continues to work at Always Quilting in San Mateo cutting fabric, programming the long-arm quilting machine, and helping customers pick coordinating patterns and colors for their projects. “It’s the perfect place for me to work because they know me and my disabilities,” said Sarah. “I work two days a week except during the summer kids’ camp when I work all week helping to teach the kids. The rest of the time, I follow my passion for art: painting, making jewelry, and creating other projects.”
Although she has produced works of art on commission, Sarah says it’s difficult for her to sell her creations. “We have a neighbor down the road who has three kids. She saved all of their Curious George t-shirts and onesies and then asked me to create a quilt out of them,” said Sarah, describing one of her commissions. “It's hard to let stuff go; I spend so much time and put so much of myself into each project.”
In addition to her work, Sarah says she keeps busy by participating in the Special Olympics. “This weekend, we're going to Oakland for swimming. I’m competing in breastroke, backstroke, and freestyle,” said Sarah, who has already received a gold medal in a tennis skills competition. “I’m fairly new [to the organization], so I don't know all the ins and outs, but there are a bunch of different sports like bowling, bocce ball, and track and field.”
For future Stanbridge alumni, Sarah says it’s important for grads to keep trying new things. “Volunteer. Join a team. Be brave. You might find your passion,” advises Sarah. “Sometimes I still have to remind myself that I don’t need to go to college to be a smart, productive person. I already am.”