Ambitious 17-year-old Proves She's In A Class By Herself

Posted: May 17, 1997

When nostalgia knocks, many adults travel back to the glory days of college. For others, high school memories pluck the heartstrings.

When Juliet Richardson takes her trip down memory lane, she might not know which way to turn: The 17-year-old from Shamong has been a student in high school and college at the same time.

Today, Richardson graduates from Burlington County College with an associate's degree in liberal arts - just less than a month before she goes back to the Life Center Academy in Burlington Township to claim her high school diploma.

If it sounds like a trick, it's not. Richardson pulled it off through hard work. Following the example of her brother, who took enough BCC classes to skip his college freshman year, she has spent the last two years shuttling between the college, her high school, and two jobs.

According to BCC officials, many high school students take classes for college credit at the school, but only Richardson has managed to complete a full two-year program.

Richardson, a poised, soft-spoken young woman, takes her achievement in stride. ``I didn't know it was going to work out,'' she said.

Her real passion is singing, which she began in the choir of her church, the Fountain of Life Center, when she was 5. Next fall, she will study music at Evangel College in Missouri, where she plans to complete her bachelor's degree.

Her academic record may read like the legacy of a wunderkind - she is a straight-A student and a member of two honor societies and the junior college Who's Who - but Richardson says she is just a normal student. In her spare time, she has acted, played soccer, and edited her high school yearbook.

Carol Gavin, a BCC professor, met Richardson when she was a student in her French class. Only later did Gavin learn that her student was still in high school.

``I was floored when she told me she was only 16,'' Gavin said. The two became friends after Richardson became the treasurer of Phi Theta Kappa, a junior college honor society that Gavin helps administer.

``Juliet is very mature,'' said Gavin. ``I know some students who are extremely focused to the point of becoming nervous, but she's not like that. . . . She's delightful.''

While Richardson says she wasn't concerned about whether she would graduate from BCC, her mother, Sandra Richardson, was busy lining up the necessary credits. She guided her daughter through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests, which count toward college credits, and helped her select BCC classes that also filled high school requirements.

But Sandra Richardson, who teaches art and computers at the private church-associated Life Center Academy, says that her daughter didn't need any prodding.

``Since she was young, Juliet has been a very determined learner,'' she said. She recounted how her daughter breezed through the Missionettes, a scouting-style program at their church that Juliet completed in half the usual time.

``Whatever she puts her hands on, she goes right through it,'' Sandra Richardson said.

Juliet Richardson's parents are at once proud of their daughter and - during a time of exorbitant college tuitions - pleased at the savings, which they estimate to be almost $30,000.

When the young woman who has been sprinting through her teenage years graduates from BCC today, she will have scant time to exhale. She says she has to leave the ceremony early to arrive on time to play her role in a matinee performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at a Haddonfield theater.

``Why stop now?'' she joked.

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