An ‘old soul’: it’s how a lot of people describe Caitlin McGinley. And after just a few minutes of conversation on a recent morning, the description strikes as perfectly apt. Her soft-spoken nature belies a robust curiosity about the world, how we make meaningful connections, and how we can stay true to ourselves amid the pressures of modern life.

Two years ago, Caitlin’s curiosity led her to CCV. She wondered what it would be like to spend her senior year of high school in college, but she was also apprehensive. It would be a huge change—leaving her school and her friends to jump into life as a full-time college student. But Caitlin isn’t one to shy away from a challenge, so she decided to sign up for Early College.

Funded by the state, Early College is a unique opportunity for Vermont high school seniors to complete their last year of high school and their first year of college at the same time, earning free college credits that also count toward high school graduation. “I really enjoy the thrill of a challenge, and then being able to say I got through it,” Caitlin says. And once she got settled in at CCV, she found that she could balance college-level academics with a high school social life. “I did sports, I stayed in touch with my friends, I did all the fun things.”

That early apprehension faded fast. “After I got through the first couple weeks it just kind of disappeared because of the lovely environment that CCV is, and the people who come here and everyone is always nice to each other—students, staff, faculty—so it wasn’t very hard to shift into this environment.”

As she neared the end of her Early College year, Caitlin thought about transferring; she felt ready for a traditional college experience. But then she found out about the Free Degree Promise, a program generously supported by the J. Warren & Lois McClure Foundation that builds on Early College to give students the chance to complete a CCV associate degree at no cost. “As I kept going and maturing, I think I realized that it was kind of an opportunity that I shouldn’t pass up,” she says. “Plus, I really enjoyed my Early College year, so I was like ‘I feel like this is just the right thing to do.’”

Now, at 19, Caitlin is about to earn an associate degree the year after high school graduation. And as icing on the cake, she was nominated to be the student speaker for CCV’s 2024 Commencement, which takes place in just a few short weeks at Norwich University. More than 500 students will receive their associate degree in an annual celebration that draws thousands of Vermonters from across the state. Governor Scott will greet and congratulate graduates, and Aly Richards, CEO of Let’s Grow Kids, will deliver the keynote address.

Aly Richards, CEO of Let's Grow Kids

Join us at Commencement!

Saturday, June 1 at 2 p.m.
Norwich University
Northfield, Vermont
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“It’s allowed me to blossom into someone I don’t think I would have thought I could become,” she said of her time at CCV. “I wasn’t the most outspoken, but now through CCV I’ve kind of just opened up and felt more confident in myself.” During her second year at CCV, Caitlin served as a student ambassador for the Free Degree Promise. She participated in multiple outreach events including information sessions, a press conference, and a day at the State House. She also became an intern for the McClure Foundation, working closely with the Foundation’s executive director to improve the student experience in the Free Degree Promise.

Her CCV education helped Caitlin discover a passion for communications, which she plans to pursue when she transfers to Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island this fall. And in addition to academics, “there’s so many things I could say CCV has prepared me for, for just life in general,” Caitlin says, “that I don’t think I could have gotten as quickly if I went the traditional route in college: public speaking, communicating with classmates, reaching out and asking for help, balancing my time.” Perhaps most importantly, she says CCV has “helped me understand what community is, and that you don’t actually have to be alone when you go through things…you have someone there who’s going to help you.”

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