Abbi Benson
Abbi Benson

How hard do you think you’d have to work to complete four years of high school in one school year? Ask Abbi Benson, and she’ll tell you what it takes. She started her fifth year at West High School with just four credits. That meant she needed 16 more to graduate. Did she do it? Spoiler alert: Abbi will be marching with the rest of the Class of 2015 at commencement.

“She’s worked harder than any student I’ve seen in 12 years of teaching,” said English teacher Stephanie Silver. “Everybody at this school believes in her, and I’m so proud of what she’s accomplished.”

But how does a student find herself in the position of staying in high school for five years and almost not graduating?

“I didn’t take my first couple of years seriously,” Abbi explained. “I skipped school a lot, hung out with an older crowd who had more free time, and I thought I could do what they were doing.”

The problem was, Abbi should have been completing course requirements and earning at least half of her graduation credits as a freshman and sophomore. But she earned zero credits those first two years. During her third year, Abbi earned a half credit. ONE HALF of a credit, the whole year.

“After that, I didn’t know if I wanted to come back to school at all,” Abbi said. “I could have just gotten a GED, but my mother put the idea in my head that a GED wasn’t good enough. And then I didn’t want to settle for that.”

So Abbi went back to school and started her fourth year, during which she earned another three and a half credits. Still not even close to the number of credits she needed. September 2014, the start of year five, is when Abbi really cracked down and got serious about her graduation goal.

“This year, I was a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior.”

Abbi finished all the required classes, took classes online to recover the credits she lost her first four years, and earned additional credits through extended learning opportunities outside the classroom. She also held a part-time job at the mall.

“Every day was school, work, sleep,” said Abbi. “Sometimes not even sleep. I’ll sleep when I graduate.”

Abbi’s biggest supporters and cheerleaders were some of her teachers, who reminded her to stay focused and show up for class, and they tracked her down if she strayed.

“She’s a kind, good person,” Mrs. Silver said about Abbbi. “For all the mistakes she’s made, she’s always had a level of maturity to know you’re trying to help her, and she takes responsibility.”

Abbi does have aspirations for higher education, but she won’t go to college right away.

“I’ll get a full-time job to work and save some money,” she said. “I want an artsy career. I want to learn how to produce music, or maybe go to art school and do something creative with drawing.”

Yes, doing four years’ worth of work in one year was difficult. But no matter what obstacle lies in your path, Abbi says anyone can do anything.

“Don’t say you can’t do it. Try to see yourself being successful. If you do that, you have a pretty good shot.”