KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Ten Knox County students now have two-year college degrees before even getting high school diplomas. That sets a new record for the school system.
The path to success is filled with pomp and circumstance for the graduates who completed the associate degree program while in high school at Career Magnet Academy.
Each of the 10 ambitious graduates received their associate degrees from Pellissippi State Community College weeks before walking the stage for their high school diplomas.
"As soon as I realized there would be like a two week period where I could walk around saying that I was a college graduate, but I didn't have my high school diploma, it was really entertaining to me," Arwen Roach, valedictorian at CMA and Pellissippi graduate, said.
They're setting the record for the most dual-degree graduates in Knox County. Many will enter into four-year colleges, like the University of Tennessee and Middle Tennessee State University as teenage juniors.
"People are scared to take college classes like we did because they're afraid of losing their high school experience," graduate Kynlea Waldrop said. "I actually think that this enhanced it because we have the freedom of a college student just as juniors and seniors in high school."
Others, like graduate Eli Elgin, will head straight into trades programs like welding. He was able to get hands-on experience in the welding lab during his last two years in high school. Many of his classmates had no idea how old he was.
"It's been really fun experience, you know, being like, 'Yeah, by the way, I'm 17 I'm here helping you guys,'" Elgin said.
Whether the motivation is saving money, gaining social skills or using time wisely, each are glad they stuck with it and completed the program.
"I have a full associate degree, and two years off of money from the college, which is an amazing opportunity," graduate Nathan Parker said.
Parker added he's graduating with no money out of his pocket. CMA said most of their students can also make that claim.
During a year when the world flipped upside down, CMA helped grow graduates and are hoping to usher in even more in the coming years.
"If you have the opportunity, take it," Waldrop said.
There are 60 freshman spots open at Career Magnet Academy for the next school year. You can apply online here.