Most students get their high school diploma and then go off to college, but Newburyport native Violet Merrill took what she calls “a nontraditional path.''
The 18-year-old earned her associate degree in liberal arts with high honors from Northern Essex Community College in May, and this month is receiving her diploma from Newburyport High School.
Merrill has been taking courses at Northern Essex each semester, winter school break and summers for the past two years. In the fall, she will transfer to UMass Amherst as a junior. She said she plans to take the money she saved on her first two years of college and use it to continue her education with a master’s or law degree.
She said her mother, writer Marianne Curcio of Newburyport, heard about the Early College program at Newburyport High School in which students take Northern Essex courses and earn high school and college credits. Curcio encouraged her daughter to participate.
Initially, Merrill was just planning “to take a few courses to get a jump start” on college, but things just “snowballed” as she became more passionate about her learning.
In addition to taking college courses with her Newburyport High School peers, she signed up for additional courses, offered both online and in the classroom.
“I’ve always taken school seriously, but I wasn’t an exemplary student,” Merrill said. “The turning point was taking classes at NECCO. I had more of a passion for what I was learning.”
Her junior year, Merrill spent her mornings at the high school and her afternoons taking college courses. She credits Newburyport High School for being so flexible.
It wasn’t until her senior year that she decided to set the goal of finishing her associate college degree while still in high school.
What motivates Merrill most is her passion for social justice. She first became interested in social justice issues after the shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.
Since then, she has lent her youthful voice to many issues, such as gun control and voter registration, and she plans to pursue a career that helps make the world a better place, either in public health or law.
At Newburyport High, Merrill ran cross-country for four years, played tennis for two, and played a leadership role with Interact, a service club sponsored by the local Rotary Club.
Early College is open to Newburyport juniors and seniors, who can take courses at a discounted rate of $110 a credit hour, which is half the normal cost.
The benefits of Early College include exploring career options, taking college-level courses, and earning credits that are transferable to other colleges, said Marcy Yeager, NECC’s executive director of PK12 partnerships and international studies.
Merrill would like younger students to know that they “shouldn’t be afraid to take a nontraditional educational path.''
"Traditional school can be limiting, but you can create your own reality,'' she said. 'That’s what I did and it resulted in a lot of benefits.”
For more information about the Early College Program, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 978-556-3332.
Ernie Greenslade is director of public relations at Northern Essex Community College.