HANCOCK COUNTY — When Nick Arland makes it through the battery of final exams and projects at the end of the day, the Greenfield-Central High School senior will have a little more to celebrate than his peers.

Arland won’t just be headed toward the freedom of holiday break; he is one of 65 12th-graders across the county who will be throwing a cap in the air — symbolically, at least — when the last bell chimes this afternoon.

These students will officially graduate from high school about five months ahead of their classmates. There will be no graduation speeches, no handshakes from superintendents to bid the students farewell and no caps or gowns. But to most of the students, some of whom plan to enter the workforce and some who will enroll in college early, that won’t matter.

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To this motivated group, the decision to finish high school in seven semesters was calculated and purposeful.

A jump start

Arland, 18, said he realized at the beginning of his junior year he wanted to graduate early and could accomplish the task with careful planning. He’ll begin taking classes at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis on Jan. 11 before enrolling at Ball State University in August.“I’m ready to move on with life,” he said. “Instead of just lagging through second semester, I decided I want to get going.”In order to qualify for early graduation, students must fulfill 40 core credits, including three years of math, science and social studies and four years of English. To some, that might mean foregoing study halls and elective classes or taking two English classes in a semester.

But school officials want to make sure students attempting the feat are doing so for the right reasons, said Michelle Long, guidance counselor at New Palestine High School.

“We want to make sure they have a plan,” Long said. “Whatever they want to do, whether they’re taking college classes or working full time, we want them to spend that time productively.”

When Arland first pitched that plan to his mom, Denise, she wasn’t entirely sold.

“I was really worried that he’d lose the momentum he’s built,” she said. “I didn’t want him to lose his time management skills and break the habit of going to class.”

But after talking to an admissions counselor at Ball State, who assured her Nick wouldn’t miss out by graduating early and that all the transfer credits he earns from Ivy Tech will spare him money in the long run, she got on board.

Planning ahead

Mt. Vernon High School senior Jamaal Nelson has several reasons why he wants to graduate early. He’s been accepted to Indiana State University for the fall semester, which will make him the first member of his family to attend college, and he needs to save money to pay for it, he said.Though he’s holding out for financial aid, Nelson, 18, said he doesn’t want to take out more student loans than he needs to. To minimize that, he has plans to begin working two jobs in January, he said.“Money is what’s most important to me right now,” Nelson said. “I’m just gonna save up as much as I can.”

Bailey Batchelor, a Mt. Vernon senior, is in an entirely different boat. He’s agreed to serve a six-year term with the U.S. Air Force, and he plans to spend the months ahead preparing for it, he said.

Batchelor competes in amateur motocross races, and he said he hopes to travel to tournaments across the country before beginning basic training in July.

But Batchelor said he’ll miss the familiar halls of Mt. Vernon High School.

“It’s really starting to hit me,” he said. “I’ll miss this routine, just the experience of hanging with my friends each day and talking about what you did the night before.”

Counting the days

Midway through his sophomore year, Greenfield-Central senior Corey Hardwick said he began counting his credits, mapping out a path to complete high school early. Once he realized he could pull it off, he committed, planning out each class he’d have to take to meet requirements.Part of his motivation, Hardwick said, is that he’s eager to enter the professional world. He’s now enrolled at IUPUI and plans to major in radiology. He starts classes in January.But he admits meeting the demands of a packed schedule while continuing to achieve in each class caught up with him at times, he said.

“It’s been stressful, for sure,” he said. “But that’s kind of what’s kept me going, too. I’m just ready to get out there and get on with the next steps of my life.”

At a glance

Of the roughly 1,000 high school seniors in Hancock County schools, 65 will graduate a semester early.

Here’s a breakdown by school:

Eastern Hancock High School: 2 students

Greenfield-Central High School: 15 students

Mt. Vernon High School: 34 students

New Palestine High School: 14 students

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.