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A cap and gown are nothing new to Courtney Vance.
For the second time in less than two weeks, the Williamstown High School senior walked across a stage to celebrate her graduation.
Vance was one of 60 students across the state to graduate May 14 from the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Math and Science at Western Kentucky University.
Instead of roaming the hallways of Williamstown, she spent her junior and senior years at WKU in Bowling Green and earning more than 60 college credit hours.
The Gatton Academy is Kentucky’s only state-supported, residential program for high school students with interests in science and math careers and one of 15 such programs in the nation.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but it’s definitely worth it,” said Vance. “It was definitely hard (leaving Williamstown.) I started softball the year before I left and band. So, it was hard to walk away from sports because you can’t really do that when you go to the Academy. It was also hard without my friends and the teachers, but I think the experience was definitely worth it all.”
Students were reviewed based on ACT/SAT scores, high school grades, awards, responses to essay questions and letters of recommendation.
Then, 95 were invited for interviews with Academy staff members and representatives from across the state before the 60 students were chosen.
Vance was a part of the Academy’s fourth graduating class.
Two Grant County High School students previously were selected to attend the Gatton Academy — Rueben Cid (Class of 2009) and Madison Liford (Class of 2010).
The two biggest challenges of adjusting to life at the Academy were the independence and having a roommate, said Vance.
She admits being home sick at the beginning, missing family, friends and her animals.
“They told us that you can’t sit in your room or you’ll just be homesick,” Vance said. “So, I made sure I went outside and played all the little get to know you games.”
During the two-year stay, Vance lived in Schneider Hall and took courses offered by WKU.
She had three classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and two classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Because of the three hour drive, Vance only visited home in Grant County about once a month while classes were in session.
Vance said it took a couple semesters for her to realize that she had to buckle down and take classes seriously in order to prepare herself for a successful future.
Now, she feels she is ready for when she goes to Morehead State University in the fall to study animal science.
After getting her bachelor’s degree, Vance plans to apply to Purdue, Ohio State and Auburn universities for veterinarian school.
“I’ll know now that I have the work ethic that I need to make it through and have good grades,” she said. “If I didn’t have any college experience before going to Morehead this fall, I think I would have goofed off a little. So, it was nice that I had this prep for real college.”
Vance returned to Williamstown to participate in Class Night, Honors Night, Baccalaureate and graduation.
She was one of two valedictorians in the WHS Class of 2011.
Seeing her old friends was weird at first, Vance said, but it didn’t take long for them to catch up again.
“I know these classmates,” she said. “Almost all of them have been here since kindergarten. So, it’s crazy to finally see us all walk across the stage.”