Most high school seniors are looking forward to graduation day, and getting their diploma.
And then there's 17-year-old Rebecca Hilleary of Rhea County High School. Thanks to three years of dual enrollment, she's getting her diploma, and a whole lot more. In addition to her normal high school classes, Rebecca has earned 85 college credits, and will graduate in May with almost three years of college under her belt. It's a grueling workload that has required discipline, determination and support from teachers.
Juggling high school classes with college courses offered by Chattanooga State and Bryan College in Dayton is challenging enough. But Rebecca has a life outside the classroom too. She's a community volunteer, Rhea County's Distinguished Young Woman, a ballet dancer, dance instructor, and a cheerleader.
Just looking through her daily schedule would make most people tired. She's even an office aide at her school. Teachers say goal-oriented students like Rebecca are one of a kind. She began dual enrollment during her sophomore year, at the age of 15. As if the classes weren't difficult enough, just getting to and from various campuses throughout Rhea County and Chattanooga has been a huge challenge. "With everything going on in school, and my extracurricular activities, there isn't much free time. Sundays are relaxing days. All the other ones are very busy, but I'd do it all over again."
Graduation and scholarship coach Buddy Ballentine said, "What makes her special is her focus and motivation. It takes a lot of discipline to acquire almost three years worth of college credits before you get out of high school. From what I've been able to gather from state officials, there has never been a student like her in Tennessee, she's the first."
Rebecca turns 18 just days after Chattanooga state's graduation, and just before Rhea County High's graduation. It's the end of one long journey, and now it's on to her next goal.
Rebecca plans to attend Campbell University in North Carolina, and could receive her Doctorate in Pharmacy by the time she's 24 years old. "I want to help make people well," she said.
As she prepares to graduate from high school, with most of her Bachelors degree completed, she wants to thank her teachers at Rhea county, Chattanooga state, and Bryan College for making it possible. "My teachers have been amazing," she said. "They have encouraged me to make the most of my opportunities. They have really rallied behind me."
Rhea County principal Jesse Messimer said, "Rebecca is really something to see. She has stayed on track, and we're all really proud of what she has accomplished."