Catching Up With NAF Alumna, Dakota Reynolds

Stefani Falkowski
November 21, 2019

Dakota Reynolds graduated from the Hamburg High School Academy of Finance in June of 2019. Since then, she has moved across the globe to pursue her dreams of rescuing marine mammals who are affected by climate change and pollution. While she’s only been off on her adventure for three months, Dakota is already looking ahead at how this transformative experience will pave the way for her future. We caught up with Dakota and here’s what she had to say about her life after NAF:

What have you been up to since graduating from high school?

I graduated high school in June of 2019. The following September I left for a yearlong student exchange program with the Rotary International Youth Exchange. I am currently living in Tasmania, Australia until next August. When I return home in August 2020, I will be attending college in Florida to study Marine Mammal Rescue and Rehabilitation.

The Academy of Finance at Hamburg High School has always had a good relationship with the Rotary Club of Hamburg in our district. I was given an opportunity to attend a youth leadership camp in Canada my sophomore year, and there I was introduced to the Youth Exchange program. I have been on exchange in Australia for about three months now, and it has already changed my life in ways I could never have imagined. I’ve gained a much larger perspective on life, culture, politics, climate change, and humanity that I wouldn’t have had simply from going to college.

I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not joined the academy and taken the opportunities afforded to me.

What’s up next for you?

I will be attending Florida Keys Community College beginning in August of 2020 for two years. The plan is to then transfer to the University of Hawaii to complete my studies in Marine Mammal Rescue and Rehabilitation.

I’m most interested in marine mammals that are constantly being affected by climate change and the pollution of our oceans. My goal will be to rescue injured or endangered marine mammals, rehabilitate them to return them to the wild, or take them in and care for them if they are unable to be returned to the wild for medical reasons.

This career does not generally make a lot of money, however, I have never been one to live for riches. I want to use my two hands for good and my passion is marine animals so that is what I’m choosing to do. I’m taking my dreams and turning them into reality using the two good hands that I have been given and creating opportunities for myself. Life will not always be the easiest when going into this type of career field, but I do what I love for the joy of it. You can have all the riches in the world but if you hate what you do, there’s no point. We were given two hands to help others and to help the world.

Upon finishing my studies at university, my goal is to join the peace corps and serve for four years in a developing country. I have grown up in a family that always pushed me to serve others in need and I want to give back for all that has been given to me. My mom is a food pantry director in Western New York and I have been serving with her ever since I can remember. I have seen poverty, homelessness, refugees, working poor, families stricken with medical issues, and the list goes on. I have been blessed with this life that I have and I do not know why I was given so much when others were given so little, but what I do know is that I want to give back what I have been blessed with. My passion is to help others and use my two working hands for good, in all aspects of life.

How did your academy prepare you for career success?

The Academy of Finance gave me life skills that I was not aware I would ever need. I have learned the proper art of networking—and I call it an art because it amazes me how many people don’t understand how the simple act of networking can change your life.

I was given the confidence to walk into a room and feel comfortable enough with my professional abilities that I could talk my way through business or social conversations with complete strangers. I could talk to you all day about the hard skills that the academy taught me, but what impacted me the most were the soft skills: the simple act of networking, learning the way to properly shake someone’s hand, elevator speeches, public speaking, dedication to your work, professional mannerisms, and so much more. The one thing that all of those skills have in common is that they all build your confidence. The academy pushed me out of my comfort zone and into unknown, difficult situations. Everything I learned from the academy, whether I knew it then or would learn later on, made me a more confident person.

What advice do you have for current NAF academy students?

I say this all the time and I will say this for the rest of my life: Take every opportunity that is thrown your way.

There isn’t much that you can control in life, but what you can do is take every opportunity that you are given. Opportunity comes and goes, it’s up to you what you chose to do with it. I succeeded in the Academy of Finance at Hamburg High School not because I was the smartest or the best at social skills, but because I took every opportunity to improve myself, to be better. My academy director, Krissy Lawrence, always told me, “You get out of the academy what you put into it”. I hope that current, as well as future academy students, can remember that statement not only while in the academy but for every aspect of life.

Opportunity will always come to you, it’s what you do with it that decides your path.

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Stefani Falkowski is the Digital Marketing Manager at NAF. She's passionate about universal access to education and giving a platform to students across the country doing incredible things. Stefani writes about workforce development, career building, and the impact of the NAF network.