Ms. Carrie Finley-Bajak graduated from University High School (UHS) in 1984. She is currently a social media consultant and digital strategist. Ms. Bajak writes for Travel Weekly, sharing her travel experiences, especially focusing on cruising and the sea. She is the founder of Cruisebuzz, a website where she writes articles and produces videos to share her travels and cruise stories. She has traveled to multiple cruise ports, including those in Amsterdam, Athens, Copenhagen and Quebec City.
S&S: What are some memorable experiences you had at UHS?
Carrie Finley-Bajak (CFB): My family moved to Irvine in 1972. So when I made it to UHS, I had already spent my K-8 years in the Irvine schools. So when I went to UHS it was more of a rite of passage and the next obvious stepping stone on my education path. UHS, for me, was about community. The bond I shared with my classmates (Mighty Roar of ’84) and the journey that we had as a group taught me about resilience, adversity, focus and determination. Those lessons were echoed on the teams I was on in athletics and also in the classroom where some of my teachers really helped me.
UHS taught me that is was ok to not go with the flow. When I was a freshman, a couple other female students and I were on the boys’ water polo team (only one of us got the invite to the team photo, which is why you don’t see me in the picture). Another example of how I was encouraged to think outside-the-box was when I was a senior and I decided to try Mandarin Chinese as a foreign language. This was the first time Chinese was offered at UHS, and there were about 7 of us in the class. I could have kicked back my senior year, but I thought it would be fun to learn Chinese, so I tried.
S&S: What were some memorable classes you took at UHS?
CFB: I had a fabulous English teacher named Ms. Terry for creative writing, and I liked Mr. Bill Butler (a science teacher that retired a couple years ago). Mr. Butler was hard, but fair. Most importantly, he believed that I could be successful in science. I liked the structure of his class, and the rules of engagement made it easy for me to know what to do to be successful. I also liked my coaches who really impacted me and acted like glue to the otherwise chaotic existence that is called high school. I should also give a shout-out to my Chinese teacher Mrs. Hu because she was very patient and willing to honor my honest attempt to learn a very difficult language.
S&S: How did activities you participated in at UHS influence your high school experience?
CFB: I played sports (water polo two years, swimming, volleyball and basketball). I was on council for one year, and I participated on a lot of clubs. The Speech and Debate team was fun (although I only tried it briefly in my junior year) – at my first tournament I quickly realized that I was better at dramatic interpretation when I watched a Lincoln/Douglas debate. I loved Spirit Week and pep assemblies (who doesn’t?).
S&S: Did your experience at UHS influence your choice in your major and career?
CFB: Sadly, I can’t really say that UHS influenced my major. I applied to one college (UCI), and I got admitted later in the year. I remember that bleak feeling not knowing where I was going to go to school for most of my senior year. I applied to UC Irvine because it was close, and my parents thought it was a good idea. Since I was not a math or science person, I sort of fell through the cracks and picking careers from a catalog is not very useful. Despite a lack of direction, in the end, it all worked out because at UCI I was forced to take an upper-division statistics class as a freshman (due to overcrowding and no space in the lower division courses). As it turned out, that statistics class led to another and another so that when I graduated I had almost half of all my coursework in social science statistics and social networking. Today, my experience with those classes has enabled me to be a travel influencer, which has allowed me write way around the world as a social media expert in travel.
S&S: What advice would you give to current UHS students?
CFB: I have a daughter at UHS, and the advice I give her is to find balance. The mantra should be work, not struggle. I want my daughter to contribute to the community and to develop a love for learning (despite the grade). UHS has a lot of opportunities for students to explore their interests, however there is limited time to actually do so. Students need to take ownership of their future by seeking information from a variety of resources. There are quite a few educators in the system that truly do want students to feel less pressure; my advice is to find those mentors. Mentors will help you through the dark times of high school when life is so full of uncertainly. Lastly, I would recommend that the students look for the Spirit Jug. It was stolen from an assembly in 1980 and has not made a comeback. #BringitBack
Written by KRUTHI RENDUCHINTALA