Early College awards 66 high-school, 49 associate's degrees

May. 17, 2013 @ 09:58 PM

Caldwell Early College High School’s class of 2013 boasts some knockout statistics.

The school’s third graduating class has a 98.6 percent graduation rate. Students earned 3,971 college credits and 49 associate’s degrees. Fifteen were CCC&TI honor graduates.

Even students who don’t finish with an associate’s degree leave with an armload of academic credits; this year’s average was 60 per student.

You might think they’re all straight-A students when they come in; high achievers who have been groomed for this kind of academic success their whole lives.

That’s not always the case.

“It’s a common misconception that they’re all high-flying when they come in,” early college counselor Donna Doughty said in an interview this week.

Instead, Doughty explained, candidates are carefully chosen so the student body represents Caldwell County. They vary on almost every indicator, from socio-economic status to geography to grades.

“The Caldwell Early College represents every part of our community – every walk of life,” Caldwell Board of Education Chairman Darrell Pennell said at the early college’s graduation on Friday.

This year, 70 percent of the early college students who earned associate’s degrees were first-generation college graduates.

There are only 66 of those graduates, too. So while they’re earning their lists of academic honors, while the doors of opportunity are slowly swinging open, the students do what small groups of people always do when they spend day after day together.

They become a family.

During her speech on Friday, salutatorian Anna White couldn’t hold back tears. White described the way she and her classmates started out tentatively sizing each other up, as 14-year-olds tend to do, then progressed over five years to a comfortable familiarity and then to the uncomfortable vulnerability that solidifies bonds and camaraderie.

“We know each other inside and out, and we still love each other,” White said. “This year, we decided on college and career paths – and we finally realized how much we love and depend on our family here.”

Almost all graduations start with an administrator or emcee telling the audience to hold their applause until all graduates have walked, and almost all audiences ignore it.

But at the early college’s ceremony, the only thing you heard as graduates crossed the stage was the click of their parents’ cameras.

The sense of accomplishment was big in the room. It seemed to almost take up physical space as graduates crossed the civic center stage and picked up not one diploma, but two.

And the sense of family that Anna White talked about?

You could feel that, too.