Seniors First in District to Graduate Early with Associate Degree
STUDENTS | December 10, 2018
Seniors First in District to Graduate Early with Associate Degree

Goode Academy seniors, Devin Thomas and Cheyenne Henry, are best friends and classmates, and later this month they will not only be graduating high school a semester early, but they’re doing it with their associate degree, too.

The 17-year-olds are the first in the district to achieve this accomplishment and said their friendship and friendly competition helped push them to the finish line.

On the day of the interview, they even matched, but through contagious laughter, insisted it wasn’t planned.

As top students, Thomas has a 5.1 GPA and Henry, a 4.38, the two said they’ve always been “down-to-earth” and “humble.”

They began participating in the Dual Credit/Dual Enrollment program, a program that is offered at many other CPS high schools, their sophomore year.  As a part of the program, they’ve been taking rigorous college-level courses at Daley College since their junior year, including summer sessions.

“It took hard work and we took a lot of summer classes, but it was honestly worth it,” said Henry. “When I started freshman year, I planned to get some college credits, but I never thought I would take it this far and get my associate degree, and then [graduate high school] early on top of that. It feels great.”

Thomas agreed.

“My anticipation was to get my associate degree by the time I graduated, but I never anticipated to graduate early, and make history at that,” he said.

Each year, students who meet a minimum 2.5 GPA and 90% attendance requirement are invited to take the City Colleges of Chicago placement test to get into the program.  Goode currently has 137 students taking dual credit and dual enrollment classes in the spring. Approximately 15 students will graduate with their associate degree in the spring.

Thomas said that classes had been going so well, and much easier than he expected.

“I first challenged myself freshman year like, ‘Let’s get all A’s and just see what’s going to happen,’” he said. “Last year I had six classes and got four A’s and two B’s. I was very satisfied and it proved to me to keep going. Why not?”

He said that was when he inquired about graduating before spring 2019.

At first, “They told me it wasn’t possible, that they haven’t had a student do it before,” he said, but after some consideration, Thomas received the answer he was looking for.

“I got an email one day saying it is possible and [Cheyenne and I] will be the first ones to do it.”

Michelle Suttmeier, program manager for Early College and STEM Initiatives at Goode, said she initially told them “no” because it had never been done before and she didn’t want them to feel “rushed” to graduate.

“After they left my office I started thinking about it and decided if they had everything in line, then why not? So I called around to ensure it would be okay, and once I was given the OK by Daley and our counseling team here, I let them know it would be fine if that’s what they wanted to do.”

Thomas said he was excited to learn the news.

“Education has been one of the most important things in my household,” he said. “I have four sisters. One is grown. One’s in grad school, one’s in undergrad, and one’s a sophomore in high school. There’s always been competition.”

Henry and Thomas said they’ve been able to keep their grades up, while participating in extracurricular activities. Henry is on the majorette team, Sign Language Club, and both are a part of the National Honors Society and Phi Theta Kappa, Daley College’s honors society.

In the past, there were some challenges with juggling that and taking the college courses because of outside factors, such as family members in the hospital or a death in the family. They credit their support system, in school and at home, for helping them through it.

Suttmeier first met Thomas and Henry their freshman year as their English teacher. She would have them again for English II. When she transitioned from teacher to program manager in 2017, that’s when “I got to see Devin and Cheyenne in a new light, as thriving college-going students.”

“They are relentless about their education, mature, kind, and some of the hardest working students I know,” Suttmeier said, adding that they always find time in their busy schedules to stop by her office and say hello.

After graduating in December, Henry said she plans to “keep going.” She’s already enrolled in spring classes such as child psychology and abnormal psychology at Daley. She hasn’t yet decided on a college for the fall, but her top three choices are Harvard, Stanford and Rice University, which is in Texas. Henry said she’s leaning toward majoring in either psychology or business, but her ultimate career goal is to work as a lawyer one day.

Thomas said he’s considering Western Michigan University, Morehouse College and Drake University to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Business Management, but is looking forward to a short break before the fall. After graduation, he said he will continue working to save money for college.

Thomas and Henry said they encourage students, especially incoming freshmen, to not be intimidated by college and to give the Dual Credit/Dual Enrollment Program a chance.

“They hear the word ‘college’ and feel overwhelmed,” said Henry. “That’s how I felt at 14. I would tell them though, you can honestly do it. It’s really nothing to it. You just have to try.”

Thomas said his experience at Daley was better than he expected and all students should take advantage of the opportunity.

“Daley actually offers you a lot of freedom and a chance to really get to know yourself,” he said.  “It’s a great learning experience and I would push everybody to at least try to take the test.”