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College first

by Mike Masterson | January 1, 2023 at 1:43 a.m.

A senior at Bergman High School set a record last month by becoming the first student in the 48-year history of North Arkansas College at Harrison to earn an associate of arts degree before graduating from high school.

How impressive that young Charles Noah Cuevas-Klepper, often facing odds stacked against him, would put forth the focus and incredible energy necessary to complete college requirements a full semester ahead of his high school graduation requirements.

A press release from the college noted that administrators at both schools were so impressed they teamed up to hold a special commencement ceremony for the young man attended by Bergman students and teachers, representatives of NorthArk, and his family.

Bergman's principal, Amy Curtis, was quoted as praising Noah for spending untold hours to achieve such a feat. "We applaud his extraordinary effort to accomplish this and we congratulate him on this prestigious achievement. Noah, we look forward to your bright future and the impact you will have on our world."

It occurs to me that any teenage boy with sufficient grit and determination to pull off such a feat while also remaining active in many extracurriculars is bound to be successful in whatever he undertakes.

And I'm not talking about achievements in basket-weaving and Trivial Pursuit. Noah attended Arkansas Boys State, Arkansas Governor's School and received the Arkansas Seal of Biliteracy for Spanish. He's a member of the National Honor Society, the National Society for High School Scholars and Phi Theta Kappa. Whew!

All else aside, music and the saxophone are his passion. "I write/compose, transcribe, and transpose music when needed. I make beats on occasion," he's quoted as saying. "When I am not working, studying or messing with music in some way, I am probably sleeping." The young man also started a student-led jazz band at Bergman, and plays baseball and esports as well.

How does this young wunderkind somehow find an hour each day to sleep?

At the ceremony, NorthArk President Dr. Rick Massengale called Noah "an inspiration. I am in awe of your accomplishment. I salute you."

The road to this special day wasn't easy. "One major setback happened during my junior year," Noah was quoted as saying. "I felt a sharp pain in my abdomen and I was admitted to the hospital." There he underwent a splenectomy, the removal of his spleen.

The press release said it took Noah months to recover and he missed many days of high school. At the time, he had eight classes at NorthArk, four advanced placement classes and seven regular high school classes. Noah attended high school from 7:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. NorthArk classes began at 4 p.m., and he often studied until 3 a.m.

It was a sacrifice he willingly made, Noah told the college: "I overcame my shortcomings with time and support from the faculty at Bergman and [NorthArk]. My family and friends also played an extremely great role in my recovery." He said he's fine now, but has a half-foot-long scar as a reminder.

Noah learned of NorthArk's concurrent classes program from his mother, an RN graduate of the college. At first, he said, the concurrent credits were just a way to "seek a higher form of learning." He enrolled during his sophomore year in high school.

Concurrent credit classes allow students to earn college and high school credit at the same time at relatively little cost to the student. A new NorthArk program also recognizes students as they progress further toward their degree.

Noah said, "I learned I could get an associate degree when I graduate from high school, saving a lot of time for me in the future. I enjoyed the affordability, the easy access, and the experience. I loved learning about many different subjects."

Dr. Massengale highlighted the savings of concurrent classes. "If you wait until after graduation to attend a college to the west who has a pig mascot, this degree will cost you $19,000," he said. "If you go to the south where I came from in Russellville, this degree will cost you $26,000. Noah's parents and Bergman paid $2,100 for this degree. That is a savings of $17,000. Noah, that's enough to get you a new car!"

In his speech of gratitude for the richly deserved recognition, Noah thanked everyone who supported him along his journey, including his family. "What now? What is there more for me to do? My path at Bergman and NorthArk has introduced me to my future. I realized and learned so much. I am indebted to both institutions."

Noah said he plans to continue his education by pursuing a career in the wide field of science, technology, engineering and math, better known as STEM. And with his focus, drive and creative abilities. what a stunning career I safely predict it will be.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]

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