Every year, a small group of students graduates early, getting their diplomas months ahead of their classmates.

Some were able to finish their courses a semester early and get head start with saving for college or their future. Other students have spent months getting back on track after dropping out or missing a large amount of school.

For early graduates, the extra semester to prepare for college can be beneficial, so long as they have a solid plan for what they will be doing next, Center Grove Alternative Academy director Beth Bryant said.

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While an early graduation isn’t always something she would recommend, if students are prepared it can work for them, she said.

We talk to local graduates about what they will be doing over the next several months.

Overcoming adversity

At 19, Clark Morris’ life has already taken several twists and turns.When Morris was 2 years old, he was placed in the foster care system. Four years later, he was adopted by a Johnson County family.

At 15, his adoptive parents sent him to Panama City, Florida, to the Maynard Family Children’s Home, a military academy style boarding school. When Morris turned 18, he was homeless for several months in Florida.

“Nobody wanted anything to do with me,” he said.

Homeless and on his own, there were times he would go several days without food, and he wasn’t picky about who he stayed with. During that time he experimented with drugs and alcohol, addictions he is still recovering from now.

“If anyone said they’d take me in, I didn’t care,” Morris said.

His biggest desire was to meet his biological family.

“Every adoptive kid wants to know who their family is,” he said.

After he had been homeless for several months, his biological mother and stepdad found Morris on Facebook and arranged for him to come back and live with them in Whiteland.

Morris was excited and confused — happy to finally be with his family, but confused about the past, he said.

His parent’s encouragement was what led Morris to enroll in high school to get the remaining credits needed for his diploma, and this fall he began taking classes at the Clark-Pleasant Academy.

It took him a semester to take the English, history, college preparation and computer software classes needed to get his diploma.

Now, Morris is working to get his life back on track. He’s trying to get his learner’s permit, so he can begin practicing to get his driver’s license. He’s working at a fast food restaurant, and finances remain the biggest challenge to getting into college, he said.

His goal is to go into computer software or study to be an auto mechanic. His stepdad works with cars as a hobby, so Morris has had the chance to get hands-on experience, he said.

Saving for college

With only seven more classes needed to graduate, Jerry Rose was more than ready to take on the task of getting his diploma a semester early.Now, after graduating from the Clark-Pleasant Academy, he hopes to use the extra time he will have in the coming months to earn money for college.

Rose wants to study computer engineering. He has always enjoyed learning how computers work and taking them apart and putting them back together, he said.

In the fall, he plans to start taking classes at Ivy Tech Community College.

Rose is part of the 21st Century Scholars program, which awards scholarships. But first, he plans to attend Ivy Tech for a year prior to transferring to the University of Indianapolis.

For now, he is looking for a different job.

Getting his diploma a semester ahead of schedule will help him save up the money he needs to pay for his first year of school before transferring to the University of Indianapolis, he said.

Family support key

Earning her diploma early was a big encouragement for a single mother that she can face future challenges in her life.Ellionna Wheat became pregnant as a freshman at Center Grove High School, and had her daughter, Kittley, when she was 16. After that, she attended school on and off, at one point skipping classes for three months.

Despite those setbacks, Wheat is graduating only a semester behind schedule.

Wheat credits the support of her family and Center Grove Alternative Academy Director Beth Bryant in helping her get back in school and finish her remaining classes.

Being able to earn her diploma despite the struggles she has gone through has given her confidence that she will be able to tackle whatever challenges lie ahead, Wheat said.

Wheat has been accepted into the Paul Mitchell Academy, a beauty school. Her goal is to study cosmetology.

S

eizing a second chanceFor one student, getting into the Center Grove Alternative Academy was a second shot at getting his high school diploma.

Matt Messmer missed the first semester of his junior year after getting into trouble and making bad choices, he said.

He was grateful to have this second chance at high school, and he made sure to make the most of it.

“I took it seriously,” he said.

Having missed the first semester of his junior year, Messmer completed two years of classes in the span of one year and will graduate a semester early.

His plan now is to find a second job to continue saving for college.

Messmer isn’t sure yet what he wants to study and said it is difficult making such an important decision this early in his life. He is considering applying to Ivy Tech Community College and taking his prerequisite classes in the fall.

“I have to find what I love to do,” he said.

The Morris File

Name: Clark Morris

Age: 19

School: Clark-Pleasant Academy

Post-graduation plans: Work and save money for college. Attend Ivy Tech Community College and study computer software or auto mechanics.

The Messmer File

Name: Matt Messmer

Age: 18

School: Center Grove Alternative Academy

Post-graduation plans: Find a second job. Start working on prerequisite classes next fall at Ivy Tech Community College while deciding what he wants to major in.

The Wheat File

Name: Ellionna Wheat

Age: 19

School: Center Grove Alternative Academy

Post-graduation plans: Attend Paul Mitchell Academy, a beauty school.

The Rose File

Name: Jerry Rose

Age: 18

School: Clark-Pleasant Academy

Post-graduation plans: Find another job. Attend Ivy Tech Community College for a year and then transfer to the University of Indianapolis to study computer engineering.

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Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.