FORTVILLE — Florence May remembers the moment her daughter, Elizabeth, first thought about graduating from high school early.

Elizabeth was 10 years old, and the family was eating at an area pizza joint. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels sat at a nearby table and introduced himself. He asked the May girls about their educational goals and told them about an education initiative the state was launching under his tenure.

Hoosier students who graduated a year early would be eligible for a $4,000 scholarship.

May said the chance encounter likely stuck with her daughter as she began planning her high school career.

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Elizabeth and her friend, Theresia “Tess” Barnett, graduated May 27 from Mt. Vernon High School, a year earlier than their classmates. They’ll both receive The Mitch Daniels Early Graduation Scholarship when they head to college in the fall.

The girls were among about a dozen juniors who graduated early this year.

Both girls ranked in the top 10 of their junior class. They also might have ranked in the graduating class’s top 15, but educational practices don’t allow for graduating juniors to be included in the senior class rank.

Next year, Elizabeth will attend Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis to pursue a degree in engineering or criminal justice.

Barnett plans to attend Marian University to study nursing.

The girls, who are close friends, said they were going to finish all the high school courses they were interested in taking by the end of their junior year, so they decided during their sophomore year to graduate early.

They took summer and independent study courses to stay on track with completing the required number of courses to graduate and even exceeded those requirements.

But their decision to graduate ahead of their class came at a cost. The girls couldn’t be valedictorian or salutatorian of their class because they graduated early. And because their time was taken up by taking courses needed to graduate early and with academic honor diplomas, they had to drop out of some extra curricular activities.

On graduation day, as seniors’ names were read before they accepted their diplomas, Elizabeth and Tess realized they didn’t know very many people in the Class of 2016.

The students they grew up with won’t graduate until next year.

Still, finishing high school early was worth it, they said.

Now they can look toward the future.

In the fall, Tess plans to participate in choir and global studies programs. She’s looking forward to living on her own.

Elizabeth is excited to study courses she’ll need in her career. She hopes to eventually join the military.

Though they’ll miss Mt. Vernon, they’re excited for new opportunities.

“We would have driven ourselves crazy if we took another year,” Elizabeth said.

At a glance

More than a dozen local students graduated a year earlier than many of their classmates through hard work and focus.

Greenfield-Central

Olivia Cox

Briley Fisher

Brittni Fox

Dylan Hays

Robert Zorne

Mt. Vernon

Tess Barnett

Desiree Chandler

Elizabeth May

Makayla White

Eastern Hancock

Patience Hannemann

Kinzie Kramer

Drew Stephens

Jadelyn Watson

*New Palestine High School officials did not submit names of early graduates.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.