Hanging out with Josh Huffman is just plain fun.

Josh is vibrant, charismatic, and genuine. When he talks about things that matter to him, like being a theater (and German) major at UVM, he gushes: “Theater has sort of been my safe haven,” he says, “where I can leave myself for a bit and explore someone else…I’ve been through some stuff, but there’s so much more I can offer. What am I gonna offer if I’m just sitting there in self pity? I can’t do that. You just gotta keep…[Thoughtful pause]…The show must go on!”

Josh is a sophomore at UVM, even though he’s the same age as his first-year classmates. That’s because he completed Early College at CCV-Montpelier during his senior year at Randolph High School. The program allowed him to finish high school and get a full year of college credit at the same time. “It’s just amazing to have that sophomore status as a first year at UVM.” Plus, he’s more prepared academically. He says his instructors at CCV—especially his English instructor—were tough, in a good way. “I’m so thankful for that now because a lot of kids at UVM are struggling…and I’m ready to go.”

He also saved thousands of dollars by doing Early College; the program is sponsored by the state, which means that students can earn a full year of credit at no charge. “Oh my goodness. The fact that it was free was awesome,” says Josh. “Most people with their first year of college have to pay. A lot. And I didn’t. I was like, ‘this is an amazing opportunity. I need to seize the day. Carpe diem, let’s go!’”

Learn more about CCV’s continuum of opportunities for Vermont middle and high school students:

Access Days give middle school students a chance to experience college.

Introduction to College and Careers is a free class for high school students about preparing for college and careers.

Dual Enrollment allows high school juniors and seniors to take two free college classes.

Fast Forward allows technical center students to earn college credit.

Early College is FREE for high school seniors who want to finish high school and start college at the same time.

After finishing his junior year at Randolph, Josh was ready for something new. “As a student academically I just needed to be challenged more, in a college setting. It’s very nerve-wracking to go into a place and not know what to expect and so I figured if I plan to go to college I wanted that experience under my belt so I’m ready.”

He says he was encouraged by others to focus on taking AP classes, but felt certain he wanted the challenge of a full college course load. “Sure, these AP credits may be worth it if I pass the exam,” he said. The verdict, one year out? “Early College trumps that by a landslide. When I tell people about Early College I’m like, ‘go for it…the experience and the actual credit is awesome. The experience is worth it and it will prepare you for that next step you’re about to take if you choose to pursue higher education. I would say just go for it. Leap of faith. Jump in. The support here is amazing and I feel like you won’t regret it. You gain so much from this…What you get here you will not get in a high school classroom.’”

For Josh, there was a lot to like about Early College. “The connections with everybody, that was amazing, and also the credits that were able to transfer.” There was also the diverse learning environment. “I was in a classroom with people from all different walks of life…I’m still talking to my friend Bethany, who’s a mom in her thirties.” Despite their differences, they bonded in the classroom. “We pushed through two semesters of English together, and that was awesome.”

Also, there was a new level of independence. “You had the help if you wanted it, but you were in charge of what you got out of your education instead of it being forced upon you. At first it was challenging because time management, what is that?” he says with a laugh. “At first it was like oh I have all this free time, but if you actually scheduled your time then you’d realize oh no I don’t have all this free time. So that was a challenge in the beginning, but I adapted.”

What Josh loves about theater is that he gets to tell stories about the human experience. “I’ve always valued empathy, and that is one thing you learn to have with pursuing acting, and someone else’s experience…trying to get into their shoes and understand them.” In Early College at CCV, he had the chance to stretch that muscle. “It prepared me to expect the unexpected. So much of the conversations in class that I’d had here, you never know what to expect will come out of somebody when they talk about something, so that helped me expect the unexpected. Expect a challenging viewpoint, the opposing viewpoint.” He thinks back to a class about the U.S. Constitution: “There was one person in the class who just had a strong opinion he was not gonna lose, and it was just interesting to see that play out. I think back to that and how you should just be open to other perspectives so you gain understanding.”

Josh is a first generation college student. “I was part of that statistic of underserved, in poverty, low income household, and I’ve been told the odds aren’t in your favor,” he said. But he’s known from a young age that college could make a big difference. He says earning a degree “means I’m gonna make more money in the future…That’s been a goal of mine since I was young, because I saw my mom struggle working crazy hours just to provide for us and I was like’, ‘I don’t want to struggle like that. I need to do more.’”

Not surprisingly, Josh has cultivated a vibrant social life at UVM. He lives in the Wellness Environment, a residential group that emphasizes healthy lifestyles. He’s a member of Top Cats, one of UVM’s a cappella groups. He’s thriving academically, and has been named to the Dean’s List. “I always strive to get good grades. It’s always been a goal, since I was young. Good grades mean success, and so I have to do what I have to do.”

Josh has made close friends, many of whom are fellow theater majors. This weekend, a handful of them will perform alongside him in Lyric Theatre’s production of Mamma Mia! at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. “There’s six others from UVM. It’s fun to just see them on campus and start singing ‘Dancing Queen,’” he says, raising his arms and snapping his fingers.

There’s the sense that luck doesn’t have much to do with this former Early College student’s success. But just in case, CCV has one last piece of advice: Break a leg, Josh!

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