More than six dozen seniors at Manning High School will receive their high school diplomas in early June at Manning High School's Ramsey Stadium.
But for seven of them, it will be the second time in 2017 that they wear caps and gowns.
Those seven received their associate degrees May 5 from Central Carolina Technical College, finishing the first two years of college nearly a month before finishing their high school careers.
Bailee Garneau, Quadri Bell, Ryan Hinson, Jesse Surette, James Thompson, Jared Thompson and Jabril Wilson enrolled two years ago in the Early College Program at Central Carolina Technical College.
"I feel extremely lucky to have been given the opportunity to receive my associate in arts degree while still in high school," said Garneau, who will now move on to the University of South Carolina Beaufort in August as an 18-year-old junior. "Aside from the benefits of saving the cost of two years of tuition, this program helped prepare us for college and how different the work loads will be from high school."
The Early College and Dual Enrollment programs at Central Carolina allow high school students to earn college credit by taking college courses during their junior and senior years of high school. The Early College program goes a step further from the Dual Enrollment Program. Students not only attend their junior and senior years of high school, but at the same time take a full load of college classes at CCTC, finishing two entire years of college in the process.
"For highly motivated students, it may be possible to finish an associate of arts or associate of science degree by the time they graduate high school," said former President Tim Hardee when the program was in its planning stages in 2014.
CCTC Interim President Terry Booth said that Garneau and her six fellow Monarchs were part of a pilot program that also included Lee County. She said that, ultimately, 136 of the students taking classes at Central Carolina Technical College are in the dual-enrollment program, attending both high school and college classes.
"Eighty-five percent of the 86 seniors in the program earned at least 12 credits during the school year," she said.
These dual-enrollment students come from all schools in Clarendon County, she noted.
"We hope to expand the Early College Enrollment Program in the coming school year," she said. "It's been a resounding success, and these seven students won't come to us after their graduation in early May. They will go now and complete their last two years at a four-year university."
For Garneau, just focusing on college this fall will be a little bit of a relief.
"It wasn't a walk in the park," she said of the last two years. "Juggling four and sometimes five college classes at the same time as some high school classes, along with participating in sports, having a job and maintaining responsibilities at home was difficult. But it got better with experience."
Garneau, the only girl of the bunch, said the students kept each other accountable. Wilson agreed.
"Through the rigorous courses, late study groups and focused minds, seven total students were able to receive their degrees from Central Carolina," said Wilson, who will now move on as a Rubenstein Scholar at Duke University. "Of course, the work was difficult, and the stress was evident, but could we not expect any less from college classes?"
There were times, Surette said, when he wondered how he would get everything done. Like Wilson and Garneau, Surette had not only academics at the high school and CCTC, but he played football and baseball and worked with his parents while also helping at The Manning Times in his first semester.
"I can honestly say that there were times where Id didn't know if I was going to get through it," he said. "Our Class of 2017 has always been handed these types of difficult and challenging tasks, and we've always risen to the occasion. This time, we were the Guinea pigs. It was just another first we had to overcome."
Jared Thompson agreed with Garneau that going through the program with friends made the stress more manageable.
"It was fun, really, especially since I had my friends going through the entire program with me," he said.
He said that graduation May 5 sort of crept up on him.
"When I was taking the classes, I did not really think about graduation that much," he said. "I just thought that I had to get through this homework, classwork, the next paper and the next exam to get a good grade. But when I walked in the building, it was like I felt more accomplished than I had whenever I would get an A in a class."
Graduation, he said, was like a "photo shoot."
"I couldn't stop smiling," he said. "I was just blessed to be there, and it was great seeing all the hard work come together with some of my favorite people."
Wilson agreed. Two weeks later, he said he's still smiling.
"It seems unreal that I have walked across the stage to receive my degree before my high school diploma," he said. "That only shows what hard work and dedication will reward you with. IN order to excel academically while practicing every day with sports, I had to prioritize my work."
Wilson said he couldn't wait until the next due date for any project.
"I would complete my work day-by-day until it was finished," he said. "Practice was just for fun, because I did not have to worry about a due date."
Bell also learned about time management.
"I had to put off Saturdays with friends," he said. "I had to balance all my responsibilities. Sometimes, this did not always go smoothly. It was essential to write down all of my high school assignments, college assignments and events at the beginning of the week."
He added that "the key to succeeding in this program and balancing everything" was dedication.
"It requires heart and commitment," said Bell, who will now move on to the University of South Carolina. "I can say with complete honesty that I am more prepared to take on a four-year institution next year due to completing this rigorous program while in high school."
Bell said that Booth told them during the commencement ceremony in early May that "this degree only means you have potential."
"Now, I am able to use this potential with my first degree to further my education at the University of South Carolina and look forward to making positive change in this world in my law and political career," said Bell.
Surette, who will attend the University of South Carolina as well to study sports broadcasting, reiterated the hard work required in the program. But he has no regrets.
"It was definitely a lot of hard work, late nights and early mornings," he said. "I can't say that I regret it. Without the support system we had as a group, I don't think we could've done it. The biggest thing was we didn't let each other fail."
Along with Garneau, Bell, Wilson, the Thompsons, Surette and Hinson, the following Clarendon County high school students also received college credits through the dual-enrollment program at CCTC.
Mikayla Anderson, Tyler Baker, McArthur Bennett, Kacee Bensoussan, Frank Bleasdale, Tionna Brogdon, Reshae Burgess, Xabrianna Butler, Emily Coker, Joseph Coker, Phillip Dawkins, Nathaniel Devitt, Adrianna Dingle, DeTremis Dow, Anna Evans, Jasmine Evans, Cameron Friday, Keshauna Goines, Kayla Goldsmith, Christian Gulledge, Dayquan Harrison, Tolley Horton, Joshua Jackson, Tynekqua Jackson, Benjamin Janssen, Porter Johnson, Jonathan Kindell, Heather Knowlton, William Land, Leana Lemon, Lucy Lopez, Sadie McElveen, Ne’cholas Mitchell, Charlie Murray, Taylor Nelson, Darrel Ragin, Elizabeth Reardon, Micayla Robinson, Jabari Rose, Javontez Rush, Brian Scott, Robert Sorrell, Benjamin Talbert, Laura Thigpen, Rebecca Tumbleston, Matthew Varn, Tyrek Weeks and Jada Welch.