“High school will be the best four years of your life” is a phrase most teens have heard, whether from adults, in their life, or on television. However, some West students have reduced these four years to three, and are putting on their graduation caps a year early.
Junior Bailee Ehlers will be concluding her journey at West in May, and starting the extensive trek that is medical school soon after, with her top choice being at Ohio State University. “For what I want to do at the moment I will be in college till I’m 29 or 30 so if I can get a year out of the way then why not,” said Ehlers.
Ehlers said she has wanted to be a doctor of some sort for a very long time, and this desire has tragic roots. “I remember a specific experience where I saw this man in a motorcycle accident. Our car drove right past it and I was very sad because his face was all off and I knew his life would be forever changed. I just wanted to be able to change that. I want to do my best to fix people and make their lives better,” said Ehlers.
To further her understanding of all things medical, Ehlers is going to Summit Tech and is enrolled in the Medical Interventions and Biomedical Innovations course. “It’s a lot of lab based but it’s the closest class to what I want to do. We learn about microbiology and use a lot of chemistry as of right now. I think next semester we will do more of what doctors do and stray away from the lab,” said Ehlers.
In addition to this program, Ehlers is taking four classes at West, and three online at the LSR7 academy. Balancing all of her classes, in addition to being on varsity cheer, and the golf team, has been difficult, but Ehlers said she has “proven [herself] so far”.
This idea of graduating early didn’t come as a surprise to Ehler’s mother, Jenn Pavone, who recognizes her daughter as extremely independent and intelligent. However Pavone did have some reservations about her daughter pursuing this accelerated path.
“I did immediately get concerned about the work load. I wanted her to enjoy her life and not feel like that missed out on anything and was still able to be a high schooler,” said Pavone. “…I just have to trust that she knows what she wants and what’s best for her and i just want to support that.”
Bailee isn’t upset about not being able to receive ‘the complete high school experience’, a concept that is so important to many. “I don’t want to say high school is awful, because it isn’t, but it’s not exactly my cup of tea,” Ehlers said.
Although she said she loves her friends, she hasn’t formed the close connections many who have been in the LSR7 school district for many years have. “I moved here 2 ½ years ago, and yeah I love the people here, but also I don’t have that connection since childhood so it’s not that big of a deal to me…” Ehlers said.
Gregory Swaggart, a counselor at West, believes students who graduate early will miss out on certain aspects of the senior experience, but said “if it fits you and you can do it and you’re ready to go on to wherever you are going onto, then more power to you… Who are we to say what’s good, what’s bad, what’s missed out on, or not missed out. I wouldn’t have [graduated early], but I’m not everybody.”
Swaggert said the greatest challenge in the early-graduation process is assuring that the potential-graduate has all of their credits needed to graduate, 26 to be exact. “Plus we want to make sure they take the classes that they need to get to go where they want to go after they leave here,” Swaggart added.
“Bottom line is if it fits you and you can do it and you’re ready to go on to wherever you are going onto then more power to you, but it just takes a little planning,” said Swaggert.
For former West student Malia Myers, who graduated as a junior in 2017, her premature graduation date “wouldn’t have even been possible” without her hard work and planning. “Since I was in middle school, I was always planning on taking as many classes as possible to get the most out of highschool, and I did,” said Myers. Myers took summer classes as a rising freshman, as well as every summer after that.
“I think this is a perfect example of how setting yourself up for success before you even knew it would matter pays off,” said Myers. The payoff would ultimately be Myers’s health. She was diagnosed with Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, which is a chronic illness that affected Myers’s health immensely. Myers began missing lots of school, and even had a 65% attendance rate by the time she graduated.
“I felt the urge to just make high school end as soon as possible…” said Myers, and alas, the solution (graduating early) revealed itself via Swaggart, Myers’s counselor. “Malia was ready to go to college. She’s a go getter…. Maturity wise and emotionally she was just ready to move on,” said Swaggert.
To, in Swaggart’s words, “move on”, Myers took classes at Longview Community College, as well as classes online. “The process was extremely stressful,” said Myers, who was cramming in “so many classes”, while battling POTs, which caused her fatigue and headaches.
Myers ultimately ended her high school career with 26 credits, and was able to begin the next chapter in her life: college. “Now that I’m in college, I can really create my own schedule,” said Myers. “I’m a full time student at Missouri Southern State University and it’s been amazing for me,” said Myers.
Despite the difficulties that accompanied the process, Myers said she is glad she decided to graduate high school early. In regards to that ‘high school experience, Myers doesn’t feel that she has missed out on anything. “I, by graduating early, instead created my own unique experience.”