BY MICHAEL WALTON
TRAVERSE CITY — Not many high school seniors hold an associates' degree.
But Central High School student Jonathan Patterson does, and soon he will be enrolled as a junior at Grand Valley State University.
It's all part of Patterson's plan to get to law school as fast and efficiently as possible.
"That's why I'm speeding through this process, for lack of a better term," he said.
Patterson, who celebrated his 18th birthday Saturday, began taking night classes for his associate's degree at Northwestern Michigan College last winter while enrolled as a junior at Central. He took more classes in the summer and resumed night classes when he returned to Central as a senior.
Patterson earned his associate's degree in December.
Now he is preparing for his first semester as a Grand Valley State student, where he will start with enough credits to qualify as a junior. He will take night classes at NMC's University Center while he continues his high school education at Central.
Patterson said he is "slightly apprehensive" about the harder courses he expects to take through Grand Valley, but he also looks forward to the challenge.
"I want to prove to myself I can do it," he said. "I believe I can."
Patterson also faces the challenge of balancing those harder courses with high school extra curricular activities. The student is a member of Central's National Honor Society, Key Club and chorale group. He also participates in the school's theater productions.
So far Patterson has proven adept at such balancing acts. He graduated from NMC with a 4.0 grade point average and has maintained the same average in high school this year.
Patterson's mother Christina Boehm said her son possesses a rare work ethic. In addition to school and extracurriculars, Patterson works at a local vineyard in the spring and a cherry farm throughout the summer to earn money he will use to pay his tuition.
"He's very diligent," Boehm said. "He won't even take a break to go to the bathroom, usually."
Patterson wants to focus on liberal arts studies with a pre-law emphasis while at Grand Valley. He hopes to earn his bachelor's degree by the spring of 2014, and then to head off to law school shortly after that.
He does not know where he wants to study law; that largely depends on his Law School Admission Test score. LSAT scores range from 120 to180.
"If you see me get in the 170s, an Ivy League? Hey, I'll go for that," he said.
But Patterson, for now at least, knows he wants to be an attorney.
"My personality is very fitting," he said. "I'm articulate, analytical. And I guess there is an altruistic side to helping people."
Patterson's fast-tracked academic career means he will miss out on the traditional college and high school experiences. He used spring break this year as an example. The Grand Valley break and the Central break do not coincide. When Patterson is on break at one institution, he will still be studying and attending classes at the other.
"I kind of just look at it as a sacrifice I have to make if I want to stand out," he said.