17 Year Old Receives College Diploma Before High School Graduation

Mindy Reynolds has a college degree, a job, and a fiance. She speaks fluent Spanish, can converse and read in Japanese and German, and is contemplating the choice of working on a master's degree or going to law school. Not bad for a 17-year-old.

Reynolds, who graduated this spring with a bachelor's degree in foreign languages from Tennessee Technological University, will not turn 18 until August and is the second youngest graduate in recent Tennessee Tech history. Even more unusual is the fact her college graduation came several weeks before her high school graduation. How did she accomplish so much in so little time?

"In the ninth grade, teachers recognized I had a special aptitude for learning languages, especially Spanish," said Reynolds. "My first major step was winning the National Spanish Examination Contest at Level One in 1995. Things started happening quickly after that win."

Combining her natural abilities with as much as seven hours of study a day, Reynolds continued her studies in Spanish, as well as Japanese and German. She enjoyed soaking up the knowledge and seeing the results.

"I love learning languages because you can use what you learn immediately," Reynolds explained. "Each time you learn something new, you're able to explore more about people and the world."

Reynolds, daughter of Larry and Louise Reynolds, attended Park View Elementary School and Cookeville Junior High before winning a scholarship to the Baylor School of Chattanooga for the 1995-96 academic school year. As a result of winning the school's Japanese Award for her language skills, the Komatsu Corporation and the Foundation of Greater Chattanooga sponsored her as a summer exchange student to Japan.

On her return to Cookeville High School, Reynolds started working with the Special Education department to map out the academic road she wanted to follow. An individualized plan was set up to allow her to earn college credits while still in high school.

"Mindy had clear goals for herself that she could express to others," said Sharon Artley, Cookeville High School's Special Education Department chairperson. "She showed unusual maturity in being able to communicate with adults who could help her achieve goals."

Reynolds entered Tennessee Tech under the early admissions program as a result of her academic performance and high scores on a battery of standardized tests. By taking as many as 25 hours per semester, she completed her degree in two years.

Despite the demands of school, Reynolds doesn't feel she missed out on a social life. At Tennessee Tech, she was president of both the Spanish and German clubs. And a chance meeting in the library led to her engagement to Juan Rodriguez, a 1997 Tennessee Tech electrical engineering graduate.

"Juan was in the library's media center, using a computer next to mine," Reynolds said. "He was looking up information on soccer, and I thought he might know Spanish, so I invited him to a Spanish Club meeting."

While she decides whether to pursue a master's degree or attend law school, Reynolds is working at a local factory in the customer service department. She's able to help Spanish-speaking customers, and will soon be able to help those speaking Japanese.

"I am so appreciative of the help I received along the way," Reynolds said. "Tennessee Tech's foreign language teachers, especially my department chairman, Phil Campana, and my advisor, Juanita Shettlesworth, were completely supportive. Putnam County's Special Education Department, Baylor School, Komatsu and the Foundation of Greater Chattanooga all made my speedy success possible.

"I'm not sure many of my classmates were aware of my age, and my university experience seemed liked most everyone else's," Reynolds added. "I'm just looking forward to spending more time studying languages and learning as much as I can."