Jessica Abate isn't sure what her future holds, but one thing is for certain -- it doesn't include another day of high school.
After a stressful fall semester spent completing mandatory credit requirements and a senior project, Abate and eight of her Steamboat Springs High School peers graduated six months ahead of schedule. The end of their high school experience was made official by the Steamboat Springs School Board, which approved their early graduation requests during a Monday night meeting.
"I'm so excited to be done," Abate said last week. "We've been waiting for this for so long."
Each of the nine students had his or her own reasons for graduating early, but they all agreed the planning and work required to finish their graduation requirements represented one of the most stressful periods in their young lives.
"I don't know how I got it done," said Tina Roberts, an aspiring ski racer who missed about 70 days of school each high school year because of her skiing schedule. Roberts took courses at Colorado Mountain College and studied independently to complete her requirements in time for an early graduation.
With her schooling obligations out of the way, Roberts plans to devote herself to skiing full time in hopes of making the U.S. Ski Team. Regardless of what happens with her skiing career, Roberts said she eventually will enroll at a college or university.
Graduate Mike Litzau is following in the footsteps of his older brothers, both of whom are chefs. The five-year employee of Pisa's Pizza and Pasta starts culinary school later this year at Denver's Johnson and Wales University. Until then, Litzau said he'll work full time to save money for college -- his primary motivation for graduating early.
Litzau's parents, Lynne and Bob, said they're proud of their son and the motivation he's shown.
"He decided a long time ago what he wanted to do," Bob Litzau said. "He's had a taste of (cooking). He knows what it's like, and he's ready."
Nick Pugsley, 17, said he graduated early so he could move on to the next stage of his life.
"I wanted to get to the Army as soon as I could," said Pugsley, who will enlist in April. He hopes his military career eventually allows him to be an elite Army Ranger; his senior project focused on firearms tactics and instruction, partly through an internship with the Routt County Sheriff's Office.
Pugsley will spend the next two months visiting family members and following a rigorous physical training schedule.
Like her peers, Sarah Dorsey is happy to be done with high school, but she plans to spend many more years in a classroom. For her senior project, Dorsey interned at GrandKids Child Care Center. The internship helped her land a job as a full-time teacher's aide at Young Tracks Preschool and Childcare.
Dorsey said she loves working with children, particularly watching and contributing to their growth.
"It's really fun to be a part of that," Dorsey said. "But I definitely wouldn't want to teach high school."
An early graduation wasn't always a goal of Alisa Noble's, but when she realized she could finish her requirements during the fall semester, the 17-year-old made sure she wouldn't be in a high school classroom in the new year.
Noble has committed to enrolling this fall at Regis University in Denver, where she plans to study psychology and art. In the meantime, Noble will take classes at Colorado Mountain College to try to figure out what she wants out of life.
Like Noble, Emma Simmins wanted to graduate early to have some time to figure out what she wanted out of life before heading off to college. Simmins, who will study business at the University of Northern Colorado this fall, thinks she wants to be a hair stylist, but she's not ready to close the door on any other opportunities that might come her way.
Simmins is working full time at Mountain Resorts and part time at Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill.
"I never have a day off," she said. "It's kind of stressful, but it's bringing in the money, which is what I want."
Will Simmins and the school's other early graduates miss being around their friends for the final five months of school for the Class of 2005?
Maybe just a little, Simmins said.
"It's tough because all of my friends will be doing the fun stuff, but we'll stay close," she said.
High school Principal Dave Schmid and Assistant Principal Mike Knezevich said they're proud of the school's early graduates, who also include Hunter Levingston and Kim Smith.
"They've really planned for this," Knezevich said. "You've got to give them a lot of credit.
"Each kid has a different story. They're looking for different challenges and ready to move on in the world."
Schmid, Knezevich and the nine early graduates credited school faculty and Barb Parnell for their work on behalf of the students.
"I'm going to miss them," said Parnell, who worked closely with the small group of early graduates.