How and Why I Graduated Early

Student Life

When I found out COVID-19 hit my school district on a Friday in March, I screamed in delight. No school for two weeks!

Let's rewind.

High school isn't really easy for anyone. However, I had a rough start; within a few months into my freshman year, due to friendship drama, I had no friends and was eating lunch alone. I spent most nights crying and most days daydreaming about either doing online school, driving away and starting a new life, or fighting all my old friends who looked at me with pity but no compassion.

Person Sitting Beside Wall Inside Empty Room

My mental health really collapsed when I entered my junior year. The official realization that I was completely alone combined with the substantial workload from my honors and AP class made me completely mentally unstable.

In February of this year, I decided I needed a change. With the help of my guidance counselor and my school's psychologist, I transferred to a district-wide program known as the Customized Learning Program. I had a completely different schedule: school started at 8:50 instead of 7:55 am, I was only taking three courses, and most of my work was online. I was lucky to already know someone at the program, but even if I didn't, I would leave school at 11:55 am anyways, so the social aspect of school like lunchtime was no more.

Living in Silicon Valley brings a ton of academic stress. The competition is intense and a lot of the time, you feel like your classmates talk to you only because they want something like homework and test answers. At CLP, there was no competition. Everyone worked at their own pace and also worked on their own classes. We were all in our separate worlds, and I was happy with that.

If it wasn't already clear, I was so much happier at this program. The workload was minimal, there was less social interaction and I got to work at my own pace. There were also way fewer people on campus.

Woman Siting on Dried Leaves

Although I was happy at the program, I was even happier to hear that school was canceled due to the pandemic. After all, that minimized all of my social interactions. I was tired of being disappointed by people I thought cared about me. By working at home, I was working for myself, and depending on only myself.

When remote learning started, I quickly learned how much work I could get done. I quickly finished my U.S. History course, and I got the idea to graduate early. Obviously I wouldn't be technically graduating a year early, since I had started my plan so late. But if I completed all my junior and senior year courses by December, I would still be graduating a semester early. So that's what I chose to do.

After completing U.S. History, I worked to complete PreCalculus, then Government and Economics. While doing these online courses on a platform called Odysseyware, I was also taking Journalism at my original high school and Environmental Science at the local community college. I was also taking a direct instruction course at CLP for American Literature, so I worked to complete that through various projects and the help of my teacher.

Now, all I need to complete is a literature course at the community college, and I will officially have had completed all the school work I need to receive my high school diploma.

So what allowed me to complete all these courses within months?

Person Holding White Scroll

Having Little Credits to Complete

In my freshman year, I took 6 courses, and then in sophomore year, I took 7 courses. This allowed me to get a ton of elective credits. I also did Marching Band and Winter Percussion in my sophomore year, which allowed me to fulfill my P.E. credits. In junior year I took Journalism, which fulfilled some elective credits, and then I took the community college course which fulfilled my last elective credits needed to graduate.

I didn't realize back then, but because I took so many courses in my first two years in high school, I had fewer credits to complete during quarantine to graduate early.

Row of Books in Shelf

The Flexibility Allowed From COVID-19

Honestly, I never would have been able to graduate early had I had to go to school in person for the rest of the year. I thank COVID for allowing me to graduate early. Without the commute to school and back as well as scheduled breaks like brunch and lunch, I had so much more time to complete assignments.

Woman Holding Sign

Online Courses

Because I had transferred to CLP prior to the pandemic, I was taking online courses whose assignments didn't need to be adjusted due to remote learning. Because teachers weren't really able to "unlock" my tests and quizzes anymore, I had the freedom to complete assignments on OWL at any time. There were little to no Zoom meetings I had to attend as well.

Person Sitting in Front of the Laptop Computer

An Organized and Strict Schedule

I have never been as organized and strict on myself than when I was from March-June. I created a spreadsheet that showed which courses I needed to complete and how much time I should spend on each class per day. As you can see below, I color-coded everything. The light blue that you see was for the classes I had already completed. Purple was for credits I no longer needed to fulfill. To the right, you'll see that I wrote my day to day schedule, including breaks for meals and exercise. I also clarified to myself that I would still need time for distractions, tests and time-consuming projects, and time for procrastination (which I did a lot of).

Overall, I tried to motivate myself with the relief I would feel being out of high school, no longer burdened by the struggles I had faced for three years. I worked extremely hard, sometimes working for 8 hours a day to finish a large number of assignments. Sometimes I would pass out during the day, exhausted. I also procrastinated a ton, spending hours on YouTube and TikTok. But at the end of the day, I knew what I had to do to finish early.

People need routine to feel stable. That's why I created a detailed schedule. I would wake up at 9 am, make green tea to caffeinate myself, make breakfast, and get to work, munching on my bagel as I completed assignments. I made sure to sleep at a reasonable time and wake up at the same time every day. This definitely helped me feel organized and keep on track.

Making Time For Procrastination, Exercise, and Breaks

As I said before, I made sure to account for the time I would lose to well-needed breaks and other times when I would feel unmotivated. This was super important because as humans, we need to take breaks from work. As a workaholic, this was familiar to me: I knew that I would be cranky, less motivated, and bored more often if I didn't get out every day and take a walk. This is one of the reasons why I was so efficient in completing work.

Photo of Woman Jogging Down Stairs

Adjusting when things went wrong

I'll admit, I did panic when I wasn't able to sign up for my literature course over the summer. But I realized that I had more time than I thought - I still had the fall quarter to sign up for classes. And if it came down to it, I could just graduate on track, which would not be the end of the world. I had goals but also knew that not everything would go perfectly.

Photo of a Woman Thinking

Taking Pride in My Accomplishments

I've had a lot of trouble doing this in the past. Feeling ignored and invisible for three years really did a number on my self-esteem, and throughout high school I developed imposter syndrome, never feeling proud of my accomplishments. However, I made sure to give myself incentives for completing work and congratulating myself when no one else would. When people ask how I feel about next year, I proudly brag about my graduating early. I worked hard for my goals and it paid off. There is no shame in being proud of that.

Bokeh Photography of Lights

Overall, I am really glad I took this route instead of suffering for another year. I was lucky to have some friends who stuck with me through the end, as well as having a helpful guidance counselor. Yes, I faced a lot of hardship and have a lot of trauma that I need to work through, but high school is no longer something I need to worry about. It's finally over.

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Jane Park

Jane Park is a 17 year old girl living in the Bay Area. She has a year of journalism experience and is a writer, editor and graphic designer for The Teen Magazine. In her free time, Jane paints, produces music and skateboards.