Vancouver Public Schools students have college on the brain. But it’s not only high school juniors and seniors who are thinking about life after graduation. The more than 700 students at Sarah J. Anderson Elementary School also are focusing on higher education. And in December, they got a chance to meet with current college students and graduates to discuss college, studies and campus life.

Among the visitors was Patrick Lathrop, pictured above on the left, now the executive director of the Coaster Theatre Playhouse in Cannon Beach, Oregon. In addition to attending Anderson, the site of his first acting experience, Lathrop also attended Jason Lee Middle School and Columbia River High School. He later earned a bachelor’s degree in theater performance from California State University, Long Beach and master’s degrees in musical theatre and costume history and design from San Diego State University.

Students in Denise Osborn’s fourth-grade class peppered Lathrop with questions. “Was college difficult or easy?” asked one.

“Like anything in life, there were difficult and easy aspects,” he responded. “But I loved learning and making friends.”

Other questions for Lathrop ranged from the pragmatic (How did you pay for college? Why did you choose those majors? Did you use a notebook to organize your day?) to the personal (Who inspired you to go to college? Were you nervous?).

College Day was structured to complement the school’s college-focused culture. Anderson is an official No Excuses University school. Students learn about college, make a commitment to college readiness and adopt their teachers’ alma maters. In Vancouver Public Schools, Martin Luther King Elementary also is an official No Excuses University. A third elementary school, Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary, uses the program as well.

“It’s a very soft focus; it’s really just a positive look at college. All they’re acknowledging is that college is a good thing, and college is something that

[the students] probably want to go do so that [they] can get a good job,” said Lathrop.

“When I was a kid, we weren’t as college-focused [as you are],” he told the class. Nevertheless, VPS teachers inspired him to continue his studies after graduation, though he delayed college for a few years while working in finance.

Lathrop also addressed the pros and cons of pursuing higher education directly after high school versus waiting a few years. Ultimately, he told the class, what’s most important is just to go.

“You can go when you’re 30, or you can go when you’re 80,” he said. “College will always be there for you.”