COLUMBIA — At an age when most teens are excited just to get their driver's licenses, Ashley Popham, 16, is already a high school graduate.
In front of a small crowd of family and friends Thursday night, Popham and fellow student Jason McCloud, 19, became the first two students to graduate from Muriel Williams Battle High School.
Battle opened to about 1,100 freshmen, sophomores and juniors in the fall. The first graduating class will celebrate its commencement in 2015, but the two early graduates were a pleasant surprise, Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher said.
"We didn't really plan on it ... . But Ashley sort of accelerated through the program, and Jason's situation allowed him to meet his goals," Belcher said. "And that's good; we never hold anyone back."
When Popham learned that she was on track to accumulate the 24 credits required to graduate this May, she was caught off guard as well.
A severe allergy to blue dye had forced her to take most of her last 2 1/2 years of classes online from home. Thanks to summer courses, though, and the fact that she was a year ahead in math, she was able to accomplish her goal and become a part of Battle history.
Despite the rush of completing high school a year early, Popham has no intention of slowing down. In the fall, she will major in pre-medicine at Missouri State University.
"I just kind of wanted to dive right in," Popham said.
Her scientific aspirations follow in the footsteps of her parents, Phillip and Holly Popham. Phillip Popham is a biology teacher at Battle High, and Holly Popham works for AgBiTech, an Australian agricultural technology company.
"It's kind of a science-y family," Phillip Popham said.
For Popham's co-graduate, Thursday was a day McCloud had been looking forward to since he completed his diploma requirements in December. He's been working at Linen King while he weighs his options for the future.
Although McCloud hasn't decided for certain what he wants to do, he said he has his heart set on "anything that has to do with fixing things." He's interested in carpentry at the moment.
His father, Roy McCloud, drove from St. Louis to see his third son graduate. He said that he felt proud of his son but that he's going to encourage him to go to college.
"I'm very proud now, but I'm going to keep on him," he said.
Supervising editor is Landon Woodroof.