Evaluating colleges and making the proper choice to continue one’s education is an annual rite of passage for many teens.
It was no different for 2022 Heritage Academy graduates Emily Turik and Peyton Gray. But these friends for the past year-and-a-half are ready to move on to college after only three years of high school.
It’s not an unprecedented leap but one that is far from commonplace. Many high schools today focus on advanced placement, dual credit, and other options that allow their graduates to get a “head start” on college. Emily and Peyton took the lead, however, in planning their expedited paths. Both will begin freshman year at Arizona State University later this month.
Graduating high school in three years is not an easy feat and, for Emily and Peyton, required continual motivation to cope with expanded high school class schedules.
Perseverance was critical.
“There was definitely a feeling of relief and accomplishment,” Peyton said. “I took the time, I pushed myself, and now I get to start college early and a new chapter in my life. I’m looking forward to meeting new people. It’s nerve-wracking but exciting.”
Emily benefited from some pep talks to herself.
“There were a lot of times I was like, ‘This is a lot of work, do I really want to do this?’ I said, ‘I’m already halfway done; I’m just going to push through and finish this.’”
Their perseverance didn’t just get them to graduation — they finished with the top two GPAs in their class of 38, an achievement even more impressive since neither student entered high school with a three-year plan in mind.
Making it happen
Peyton, who was born in Chandler, has lived in Maricopa most of her life. At 17, she is the oldest of three children, with 14- and 12-year-old brothers. (They have two dogs and a cat.) She transferred to Heritage about halfway through her freshman year.
“I didn’t have a lot of friends who went there,” she recalled. “I really didn’t want to be there when one of the only people I knew wanted to graduate early. So, I started looking into how I could possibly do that, too. Why go through another whole year when I don’t really have to?”
Working with the school’s college adviser, she drafted a plan outlining the classes she’d need to take at Heritage and beyond.
The proposal was then approved by the principal.
The plan commenced with three summer school classes. One was with Edgenuity (a Scottsdale-based provider of online K-12 curriculum) and two with Central Arizona College. She took an additional Edgenuity class in geography during her final year at Heritage.
Emily, 17, moved to Maricopa five years ago. Born in Texas, she spent a short time in Italy at age 5 and later lived in Goodyear after coming to Arizona. She said her household is all-female, with her mom and 15-year-old sister, plus four cats and three dogs.
She doubled up on math classes as a sophomore and did the same in the sciences as a junior. She and Peyton became friends when their U.S. history teacher paired them as partners for group projects.
“I first met Peyton and she said she was planning to graduate early,” Emily said. “I looked and saw that I only needed three additional credits.” Like her new friend, she eventually asked herself: “Why go through a whole school year where I get eight credits?”
So, she decided to try and do it in three years. But that decision resulted in an 11-class load — the eight classes at Heritage, two online courses through Edgenuity, and one administered by Rio Salado College.
“I had dancing every day, except Sunday, and also a part-time job,” she said. “It was a lot, but once I was working my way through it, it became easier. I tried to do a lot of (the online work) over fall break and spring break.”
Self-motivation was essential for both.
“For me, I just have really bad procrastination issues,” Peyton admitted. “When it’s online, and you don’t have the teacher actively saying, ‘You have this and this and this,’ you have to really motivate yourself to get that work done or it’s not going to get done. You can’t really put things off until the last minute — and if you do, you’re the one responsible.”
Emily added, “It’s really hard to get yourself to do it, especially when you’re doing homework for other classes. You don’t really get a break. Most of my days were going to school, come home, do homework for Heritage, go to dance and then come home and do my online schoolwork.”
Choosing a school
The road to ASU was not a direct one for either overachiever.
“I originally wanted to go to Brown (University) in Rhode Island,” said Peyton.
“But I’ve never lived by myself before; it’s a place really far away, a place I’ve never been,” she said. “With school and a job, and getting used to a new place, I thought it would be good to stay somewhere closer to home. ASU is a good school. It’s not that far away, but I also will have that experience of living by myself.”
Peyton contended she’s “never known what I wanted to do with my life,” but her first choice for a degree was biological sciences.
“Then I got a job at a medical billing office, saw how much work it really is to be a doctor,” she said. “I looked at the course load I would have to take, and this was just the fall semester, and it was a lot. I don’t really like math and science that much and I said, ‘Why am I putting myself into this position where I would only be doing math and science?’”
Peyton realized she wouldn’t take any English or foreign language classes, some of her favorite subjects.
“So, I switched to English,” said Peyton, who wants to specialize in creative writing. “I did take a creative writing class in high school, and I really enjoyed it. I liked having the freedom to write about the things I want to write about. I also took English 101 and 102 in high school and found that I was pretty good at writing. Even though I did good at math and science, it wasn’t something that kept me interested.”
Emily, who enjoys arts and crafts in addition to reading, said having scoliosis catalyzed her interest in pursuing the biological sciences.
“I knew I wanted to go into the medical field. My doctor would talk to me about it, and I knew because I personally went through it. It’s really interesting to me.”
Emily added her mother, Kasey Turik, encouraged her to at least begin her college days close to home. Both her parents are University of Arizona graduates, however, and diehard Wildcat fans. But the combination of strong medical and dance programs at ASU won out.
“My whole family makes fun of me for wanting to go to ASU,” she said, smiling. “I told my doctor I was going to study what he did and basically wanted to do what he did. He also went to U of A and so he also made fun of me.”
Kasey Turik, a longtime teacher, said she has always had a wall in her classroom devoted to the Wildcats. Former students would ask her what would happen if one of her children wanted to be a rival Sun Devil.
“As long as they’re furthering their education, getting the major that they want, I’ll be happy wherever they end up,” she said. “Yes, we’ll give her a hard time about it the next four years, but it’s great. She will be closer than Tucson, and we will get to see her more often.”
Turik said the accomplishments of both girls — each earned college credits through their high school classes — deserve recognition.
“It’s impressive how all their hard work has paid off,” she said.
Both girls say their friends had questions about how they accomplished an early graduation.
When asked for advice on pursuing such a compressed path, their answers are thoughtful and straightforward.
“If you’re going to make the decision, you need to stick with it,” Peyton said. “The extra classes, especially like Emily, when it’s during the school year on top of all your normal classes, can get very overwhelming very quickly. You need to make sure you’re the kind of person who can handle that stress and can stay on top of it. Because if you just forget about it, then you’re just wasting your time, wasting your money and you’re wasting other people’s time.”
“The biggest thing is not to procrastinate any of your schoolwork,” she advised. “And try to make your plan your freshman year so you don’t have to take a bunch of extra classes your final year. You can spread them out over three years.”
Read more about Emily here: Scoliosis diagnosis doesn’t slow youth’s dance career.
This content was first published in the August edition of InMaricopa magazine.