First CHS student enrolled at 14 earns degree before diploma
Not many eighth graders have determined their future careers, but Abigail Dickson knew exactly what she wanted to do.
“I wanted to serve in the best branch of the military,” she said.
For her, that meant the U.S. Navy, a branch her older brother, First Class Petty Officer Harley Dickson, has served in for 16 years.
To prepare for that role, she applied and became first 14-year-old accepted to the College of the Mainland Collegiate High School. The rigorous program had previously admitted high school juniors and seniors, who complete high school and college classes and often earn an associate degree by high school graduation.
In her four years at CHS, Dickson has faced many challenges – and surmounted them. She graduated in May with an Associate of Science and a $180,000 ROTC scholarship and three weeks later with a 3.9 GPA and high school diploma from Dickinson High School.
“She did a magnificent job as a CHS student in both her academic and community service,” said Collegiate High School principal Sandi Belcher. “The first day I met Abi, she informed me that her career goal was to be a naval officer. Abi has been unwavering in her pursuit of her lifetime goal, and knowing Abi’s determination, she will make it all happen.”
Self-motivated from the get-go, Dickson has seen a difference in herself throughout her time at COM. No longer a shy freshman, she feels more focused, more mature, more confident.
“My very first college class I was 14 looking like I was going on 11,” she remembered. “I’ve learned a lot about myself as a student.”
In that first class, she was assigned a 74-year-old study partner, and Dickson viewed their age gap not as a roadblock but an asset.
“There are so many more opportunities to learn from older people,” she said. “They’re coming to college for the same reason I’m coming—to learn. I don’t look so much at their age. I look at their determination and I find kindred spirits in that.”
Focused on preparing for military service, Dickson joined the ROTC at Dickinson High School. She also worked as a chemistry lab assistant under professor Thomas Johnson. She credits him, and her many other instructors, with helping guide her.
“Being here for four years, they made a very significant impact in my life,” she said. “Ms. Belcher keeps me very humble, and I’m grateful for her and the advice she gives me all the time.”
Sometimes, however, she wondered if there were an easier path. Challenging for adults, college courses were even more so for a teen still navigating adolescence and growth spurts.
“There were several times I thought, ‘Why am I doing this?’” she remembered. “But what I found out is perseverance is not necessarily not wanting to give up but not giving up.”
In one math course she recalls a earning a solid string of C’s. Undaunted, she took the course again and earned a 95.
“(If I’d given up,) I would not have been able to say I was a college graduate before a high school graduate. That really made it worth it,” she said.
Looking back, she has no regrets about embracing the challenge.
“It’s been a ride,” she said. “I’ve made lifelong friendships. The kids who come here are as determined as me. They keep me accountable, help me through it. If I had to go back, I really wouldn’t change the friends, the people, the classes I’ve had for anything.”