Life beyond high school: effects of early graduation


Photo by: Grace Puckett

Art above features the different classes and attempts to demonstrate the lack of numbers in the senior class.

Story by McKenna Hodges and Lane Phifer

At every pep assembly, the students of PHS gather together to participate in the class yell. Although there are 203 freshmen, 230 sophomores, and 199 juniors, a small number of seniors stand in the bleachers to cheer for their class. 

With a senior class of 173 students, 106 of them have reduced schedules while 12 of them are semester graduates. 

While graduating early or having a reduced schedule may seem beneficial, due to the lack of seniors present during the school day, a small number of them are involved in clubs and extracurricular activities. 

According to Debate and Forensics coach Julie Laflen, there was a loss of seniors with the incoming class compared to last year. 

“Last year, we had 13 seniors and this year we have three,” Laflen said. “But at the same time, I’m glad that it was those three because they were always very consistent with the work that they did.”

Despite the lack of seniors, there was an increase of underclassmen taking on more leadership role opportunities.  

“I think [the lack of seniors this year] actually helped the juniors step up because they knew that there wasn’t a lot of leadership in all the classes,” Laflen said. “It really made them step in and do anything they could.”

While the lack of seniors this year has affected some programs, According to band director Cooper Neil, it didn’t affect the music program because of a large number of incoming underclassmen. 

“This year is one of the smallest senior classes that I’ve had in a while,” Neil said. “However, I wasn’t as concerned this year with the negative effects of it since we had a large freshman class come in and we’ve had juniors take on more leadership roles.”

This year is one of the smallest senior classes that I’ve had in a while

— Cooper Neil

With a majority of seniors having reduced schedules, it gives students with a full schedule more opportunities to be a leader. 

“It is hard sometimes because I feel like I don’t always know what to do since I don’t have as much experience as seniors in the band,” junior Hannah Burns said. “I do love being a section leader and my section, but being a section leader is a lot of responsibility. It’s taught me how to manage my time better and to make time for others who need help.”

Due to that fact club meetings take place before and after school, it almost seems impossible for them to be involved in clubs. 

“You can’t do anything club related during school hours, which causes our seniors to feel like they can’t be involved,” Spanish teacher Angie Pallares said. “With a majority of them having reduced schedules and then going to college classes or work, there’s almost no time for them to go to a club meeting that takes place before or after school.”

While several of senior Hailey Michelle’s peers graduated early, she decided to finish the rest of her senior year at PHS in order to focus on her art before going to college in the fall. 

But despite the benefits that come with it, Michelle admits that there are disadvantages too. 

“I decided not to graduate early because I fell in love with my art class and I decided I wanted to have more time to create art before I start my life,” Michelle said. “However, one negative is that I usually leave after second hour so I can’t go to club meetings, pep rallies, and student council events.”

While graduating early may seem beneficial for most, Laflen advises students should spend as much time in the present as possible. 

“I wish people could be high schoolers a little bit longer and that they didn’t feel the need to have to rush into growing up so soon. You’re a high school student once in your life so enjoy every second you can if you don’t have to rush it,” Laflen said. “Be involved in the things you’re passionate about because it’s only a semester more of your time and before you know it, it’ll be gone forever.”

Senior Becca Shackelford decided that graduating early was the best option for her after starting to work for her uncle’s online tech business. According to Shackelford, she doesn’t want to attend college but, instead wants to focus on creating an online business and publishing her own book.  

“I’ve always had an idea of what I wanted to do after school, and it wasn’t the traditional route,” Shackelford said. “I didn’t want to go to college, I’ve wanted to join my uncle’s business, and be able to travel wherever.”

I’ve always had an idea of what I wanted to do after school, and it wasn’t the traditional route

— Becca Shackelford

With the help of counselor Stef Loveland, Shackelford was able to plan her schedule so that she was able to graduate at semester. According to Shackelford, skipping certain classes helped her with the early graduation process. 

“Mrs. Loveland helped a lot, and was very communicative with me about what I needed to do,” Shackelford said. “But graduating early really starts in middle school, if you have the option to skip certain classes or take high school math courses in middle school, then you could graduate a lot earlier.”

For senior Devin Lange, her graduation process started her sophomore year after missing a semester of school. She started by taking online courses and then began attending PASS academy and also took classes over the summer. 

“For me, my graduating early process began when I had behavioral problems in my freshman year and ended up missing a semester of school,” Lange said. “Graduating early has let me get a head start with my life. I have more time to take care of myself and get my finances in check.”

However, not everyone was supportive and understanding when referring to Lange’s decision to graduate early. 

“Whenever I decided that I wanted to graduate early I discussed it with my counselors,” Lange said. “Even though they weren’t completely opposed to the idea, it felt like they didn’t think I could do it due to my behavioral issues. I decided that I wanted to prove them wrong.”

According to counselor Gina Ulbrich, students are allowed to take online classes wherever they please. But most decide to go through Fort Scott Community College (FSCC), Coffeyville Community College (CCC), or Labette Community College (LCC). 

Graduating early improved the school average by 84 percent in 2019.  

“Having the opportunity to either graduate early or have a reduced schedule in the spring is a great incentive for many students that helps with the rates,” Ulbrich said. “However, graduating early is neither encouraged nor discouraged.”

Graduating at semester has let Shackelford continue to work as a waitress at Harry’s Cafe while planning for her future. Shackelford said she was able to shift her focus from homework and extracurriculars and now says she has a better idea of her long-term goals. 

“[Not being at school] is going to be really weird at first, and boring with most of your friends in school. But it does give you time to focus on yourself and your goals,” Shackelford said. “I believe everyone needs a little time to think to themselves about what they want, and graduating at semester has given me that time.”