AVALON — In roughly two weeks, 16 Avalon High School seniors will stand, move their tassels and become graduates. But, for two of those students, the time-honored tradition is more formality than a milestone.
“I think it had been mentioned, but it didn’t really hit me until the week before,” said Loralyn Meier, who joined Tony Balderas as the first two Avalon students to graduate college before high school. Meier and Balderas, both in the Avalon Class of 2017, walked across the graduation stage Saturday, May 13 as Navarro Bulldogs with an associate degree in hand.
If the feat was not already sweet enough, the two are also the first in each of their respective families to obtain a college degree.
Meier explained her father dropped out of Tarleton State University, where she plans to attend, during his third year after he found out her mother was pregnant – with her. Balderas explained that, while both of his parents dropped out of high school to begin working, his sister, Jasmine, is currently pursuing a college degree. Leave it to the younger brother to steal the spotlight and claim to the first college degree, he joked.
“When I was walking the stage it really hit me right that,” Balderas added. Balderas turned into a quick-change artist shortly after the commencement ceremony, as he was needed on the baseball diamond in a 17-2 win over Bryson to clinch a UIL 1A area championship for the Eagles. “It felt good, but I was really tired,” said Balderas with a laugh.
“We are extremely proud of them,” said Avalon High School Principal Khris Marshall. “They went through a lot of extra work to get it done because they had to do summer school on top of what they had to do in high school. They kind of got a late start after we implemented the [associate’s] program because they were about a year behind before we decided we were going to do the associate’s program. They took it upon themselves to go out and do it, figure out the classes they needed to take and they did it. We couldn’t be more proud of them.”
According to Marshall, the original dual-credit program began in 2005. However, the opportunity to obtain an associate degree is a recent update. Marshall has been with Avalon ISD since 1999.
A study conducted by the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships found approximately 1.4 million high school students took over two million college courses from postsecondary institutions nationwide in 2010-11 — a number that represents roughly 10 percent of all high school junior and seniors. The study also found that schools in rural areas, such as Avalon that the United States Census Bureau reported had a population of 242 in 2010, saw an increase in dual-credit enrollment of 12 percent during the intervening eight years since 2002-03.
Throughout the process, neither had given much thought to being the first high school students from Avalon ISD or in their family to graduate with an associate’s.
And, though the endgame is certainly attainable, the process was not easy, they agreed.
“The school really works with us pretty well. We had a little time to work on that classwork here, but what I did, I just had to set some time aside at home to work on it. There were some pretty late nights, and I didn’t get much sleep,” Meier said.
To which Balderas interjected that there were, “A lot of late nights. But, really, hard work and dedication, that’s all it took. And tears.”
“A couple of months ago I went into my mom's room and started crying because I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Meier said. “She told me I had time but I was like ‘I really don’t have time.’ As soon as I get out [of high school], I have to know what I want to do [in college].
“[…] At one point I was ready to quit, and I was tired of the work and everything, so I came into [Mrs. Neva Del Bosque’s office] and she told me to keep going,”
Meier plans to attend Tarleton State University to major in agricultural services and development – option one, so she can become a certified agricultural science teacher. Balderas will attend Texas State Technical College before finding a university to work toward a degree in architecture. He plans to become an architect, after drawing inspiration from his father who works in construction.
“I have always worked with him or helped him out and I have already learned so much just from working with him,” said Balderas. He also stated that it was not until after his freshman year at Avalon High School that he began to take school and his future seriously.
When asked what aspect of the school or Avalon the two will miss most after graduating, for the second time but first in Eagle orange on May 26, Meier then added she would “definitely miss the community and the school. Everyone here is pretty awesome.”
Balderas, who has attended Avalon ISD since kindergarten, said the memories are what he will miss the most when he departs for TSTC in Waco.
“Just to work hard in general. Be dedicated to what you want and what you love,” encouraged Balderas to all the Eagles and Lady Eagles that the Avalon High School Class of 2017 will soon leave to build their own legacies.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith