SIOUX CITY | On May 18, Cortney Nelson walked across the stage at the Tyson Events Center to accept her associate degree from Western Iowa Tech Community College.
Just eight days later, the 18-year-old Sioux City girl will also be accepting her high school diploma after graduating from Siouxland Christian School.
Wait, Cortney's graduating from high school and community college at the same time?
"Actually if you go by the order of commencement ceremonies, I'll be graduating community college and, then, high school," she explained, noting that Siouxland Christian School is set to take place on Friday. "It's weird how that worked out.
Incredibly, Cortney isn't alone.
Three of her Siouxland Christian School classmates have also earned enough college credits to receive their WITCC degrees concurrently with their high school diplomas.
This is even more remarkable since the school's class of 2017 consists of 23 students.
"Taking college-level courses at the same time you're a full-time high school student meant double the workload," Brooke Campbell said with a sigh. "I'm so happy that all of that hard work paid off."
Along with her twin sister Taylor, Brooke had been taking online college courses since the ninth grade.
"Brooke and I would get our high school assignments done as soon as we could," Taylor noted. "Since we were both on (Siouxland Christian School's) volleyball team, we also had to contend with practices and games."
"That meant we were cramming for our college assignments late at night," Brooke said, continuing the story. "It was the only time we could do it."
Such experiences with cram sessions will probably come in handy when the Sioux City twins transfer to the University of South Dakota in the fall.
Classmate Cortney will be studying education at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.
However, Emily Yanney -- the fourth concurrent Siouxland Christian School and Western Iowa Tech grad -- is slated to attend Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida.
"I'll be studying business marketing and management," she said, smiling. "I guess I'm the wild card."
Luckily, Emily already has her career trajectory planned out.
"I already write a fashion blog," she explained. "So, I know the clothing industry will play some role in my future."
Though they may not seem very fashion-forward to a budding fashionista like Emily, the 18-year-old Sioux Cityan didn't mind picking up two separate caps and gowns for two different graduations.
"I'm totally fine with that," she said. "I'm proud of my accomplishments."
Indeed, Emily said she's happy to be able share the experience with her longtime friends.
"Brooke and Taylor have been (Siouxland Christian School) students since kindergarten," Emily remembered. "I've been a student here since the third grade and Cortney came here in the fourth grade."
"That's a long time," Brooke said. "As excited as we are for our future, it's still going to be bittersweet to leave."
Taylor nodded her head as her sister spoke.
"At Siouxland Christian School, you know everybody because we're a small school," Taylor interjected. "USD won't be like that."
Despite graduating with associate degrees from WITCC, Taylor and Brooke have never actually taken a college class on a college campus. Neither has Emily.
"Nope, every class we had was done online," Emily explained.
On the other hand, Cortney did take a few of her courses on WITCC's Sioux City campus.
"It was a little intimidating," she admitted. "You don't fully appreciate how young you are until you take college classes when you're still in high school."
Cortney said this is something that may be an issue for a while.
"Let's say I graduate with a degree to teach when I'm 20," she noted out loud. "Now let's say I get a job teaching in a high school. In theory, I may be teaching students who are only a few years younger than me."
"Wow!" Cortney said, imagining the possibilities. "That'll take some getting used to!"
OK, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. She has to graduate from high school before worrying about a post-college career.
Still, Cortney is proud to be a few steps ahead of the typical student.
"I made a few sacrifices in terms of time and sleep," she said."But it was totally worth it."
Brooke Campbell agreed.
"Taylor and I weren't certain what we wanted to study in college since we were still high school freshmen back then," she said. "Our parents suggested education as a course of study for us. They were right and we can't wait to become teachers."
Emily is also eyeing her future in a very positive manner.
"If you're willing to work hard, you can make your dreams come true," she said. "You just need to be willing to make that first step."