Ahead of the game

Haywood Early college graduates ready for the future
By Caroline Klapper | May 10, 2013
Photo by: Caroline Klapper The 2013 graduating class of Haywood Early College.

Just like the decision to forgo a traditional high school education, the 2013 Haywood Early College graduates had a different kind of graduation ceremony May 8 at the Education Center in Clyde.

Haywood Early College is a five-year program in which graduates can earn both their high school diploma and an associate degree from the community college.

There were no caps and gowns, and the new graduates didn’t turn their tassels from one side to the other to indicate the completion of a milestone in their education. While they will participate in a more traditional ceremony with the rest of the HCC graduates later — including caps and gowns — this moment was just for them.

What these young adults did share with most other high school graduates was their excitement and enthusiasm for the future.

Valedictorian Garrett Wilke threw out a lot of jokes to get the crowd of friends and family laughing, but throughout his speech, the message was the same: Graduation is a beginning, not an end.

He said many people look on high school as the best years of their lives, but he disagrees.

“Instead I like to think of these last four years as the beginning of the best years,” he said.

Wilke has been accepted to the Citadel, where he plans to major in civil or mechanical engineering in an effort to reach his goal of joining the Army Corps of Engineers. He is following in the footsteps of his parents, who both serve in the military.

His father, Bill Wilke, said he is “exceptionally proud” of his son.

“I don’t think there’s any greater honor a parent can have than to see a legacy of service passed down through his child,” Bill said, adding he gave his son a piece of advice after the graduation ceremony. “I told him to remember to use his talents for good. He has exceptional leadership qualities, and I told him to always use them for the good of others.”

Garrett’s decision to attend Haywood Early College was one he believes was right for him.

“I was hoping it would be more of a challenge, which it most definitely was,” he said.

By completing the program, Wilke is graduating with an associate’s degree in the arts, and he said he feels he is better prepared for college.

“I’m ready for the commitment,” he said.

Fellow graduate Samantha Frady has earned her Associate’s degree in general education, and by the end of the summer, she will have an associate’s degree in the arts as well.

When she gets to Western Carolina University in the fall to study biology on her path to go to veterinary school, she will be well ahead of many of the other incoming freshman.

She said she feels better prepared for the next step in her education because of Early College.

“The whole college experience is easier to go into now because I’ve been at a college for five years,” Frady said.

The decision to attend Early College was a difficult one for Kayleigh McAlister, but it turned out to be the right one.

“It was difficult being so young and doing college, but it’s definitely paid off. I’m going to be a teacher,” she said with a smile.

She already has an Associate’s degree in the arts, and she is ready to take on her studies this fall at WCU.

“I feel like I’m going to more easily understand the college curriculum and life and everything,” she said of the benefits of her Early College education. “I wouldn’t take it back.”