Twenty-five survivors of April's horrific bus crash near Orland, Calif. — which killed five high-school students and injured 38 others on their way to tour Humboldt State University — have graduated from high school and are enrolling at Humboldt, which started its new year Monday, a university official said.
Each of the students is receiving a $1,000 scholarship, a memorial to the two chaperones and HSU admissions counselor who also lost their lives. The new Humboldt students are among the majority of Southern California students from that ill-fated bus tour who were offered a second chance to tour Humboldt's campus — and not by bus.
Steven Clavijo, who was raised in the Santa Clarita Valley, said he's still adjusting to life among the forests of Redwoods in Arcata, where it’s a lot colder and greener. “Here is just completely different," he said. "I mean, the trees and everything. It’s really amazing. It's more natural and organic in a way."
Just starting college is hard enough for most kids, but HSU's Adrienne Colegrove-Raymond said survivors have had to endure incredible emotional and physical pain. For his part, Clavijo said he doesn’t want to talk about the crash now.
“Many of them have been in physical therapy most of the summer," she said. "They have been in counseling. Many are still dealing with a lot of medical and dental appointments and still getting teeth repaired, skin grafts, rehabilitation to their bodies.”
Colegrove-Raymond runs HSU's "Preview-Plus” program, which helps low-income high school seniors travel to the campus for tours. These kids were part of the program. " I really worked to get those students on the bus, and so it's hard not to feel responsible, you know," she said. "I know I shouldn't feel that way, but that's how I feel."
The crash on April 10 involved a FedEx truck that slammed into the bus full of high school seniors from Southern California.
Not all of the survivors are going to Humboldt. Miles Hill, a 19-year-old from L.A.'s Mount Washington neighborhood, is going to San Francisco State University instead. "I probably would have liked Humboldt a lot more if it weren’t for the crash. That is what ruined going to Humboldt for me," he said.
Hill's injuries from the crash have healed for the most part, but he said that he still has nightmares and feels anxious about riding buses. Going to San Francisco State means he's closer to home and can aim for a fresh start.
“I would go up there being like Harry Potter, 'The boy who lived,' and it would be very difficult for me to get the college experience with everybody knowing, 'Oh, my god, it's Miles Hill,'" he said. "I feel like it would be genuinely hard to make friends if everybody knows who I am, and I didn’t want to deal with that.”
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Meanwhile at Humboldt, there are counselors on hand to support survivors. Colegrove-Raymond said they eventually want to make some kind of memorial on campus for the crash victims, but not yet. It's too soon.
“We’re trying to be respectful to the students because some of them are dealing with post traumatic stress syndrome and some things trigger these memories and we’re just trying not to put those students in that situation," she said.
She said they're pretty concerned with how the survivors will react on the one-year anniversary of the April crash.
For now, Clavijo is getting used to his dorm and walking up and down the many hills and stairs around campus.
“It’s insane. I mean by the end of this year, our legs are going to be so toned," he said.
Clavijo is studying film at Humboldt and wants to be a director. He gets the irony, considering he grew up less than 30 miles from Hollywood.
But he said he took the advice of a high school teacher and chose a college far away from home to get a new perspective. And, so far, he said he likes what he sees.