Meet the Valedictorian: A High School Success Story

Sean Cooney was the Valedictorian of his 2011 graduating class at Colorado Virtual Academy. Being the valedictorian is no easy feat, and we wanted to hear more about what it took to get there, and where he is now. Here is his high school success story:

I am currently residing in Boulder, Colorado; taking a semester off from school.

This is where I am now.  How online schooling has helped me along the way is a much more complex question, but it can be answered in one word: responsibility.

When I began attending high school through Colorado Virtual Academy back in 2007 I didn’t know much about doing things because I knew that they needed to be done.  Up until that point I honestly didn’t take school very seriously.  I always did well, but I also never found a reason to try.  Most things came so easily to me that if I found myself learning something I didn’t enjoy I knew as long as I just held out for a few days the subject would change and I would go back to understanding.

As you may imagine, by the time I started my freshman year at COVA I had a couple of knowledge gaps; but I soon realized that excelling in high school is far different than excelling in elementary or middle school.  The grades matter, the work matters, and most importantly, having a strong foundation of education is better than immediately understanding things and giving up when I don’t.

This was my struggle through high school.  Looking back I can see that developing study habits, learning to understand things that I’d never bothered looking up, and learning how to take criticism were my goals in high school.  I still struggle with all of them.  This doesn’t mean though, that I haven’t made exceptional progress in achieving these goals.

In an online environment, high school functions differently than in a brick and mortar setting.  Essentially, the fat is cut away leaving the meat of the experience.  Online high school isn’t about cliques, or what table you’re going to sit at in the lunch room.  It’s about the education, and by cutting out distractions from others all that you are left with, as an online high school student, are the distractions that you bring with you.

I battled this every day in high school.  Sitting in front of a computer it is a lot easier to lose myself in a movie, or a video game, or spend hours getting lost in Wikipedia learning about the most amazing things, but none of which will help me pass my next test.  This is why responsibility is the most important tool that has helped me get to where I am today.

Responsibility is defined as “a position of being in charge of something”.  It’s strange to think of this as being the most important thing that I learned over the course of my high school career, but it became the most useful tool when I began college at CU Boulder.  When I arrived at college I didn’t know what to expect, but I assumed it would be difficult and full of distractions.  My major is astrophysics and I was correct.  Not only the rigorous course work, but the stigma of college living and dorm life can definitely stand in the way of education.  Back in 2011 and 2012 when I was living in the dorms on campus I absolutely allowed my distractions to get the better of me, but with each semester it became easier to prioritize the distractions and push them to the side so that I could focus on the things that really matter, like my course work, job, and extracurricular activities.

However, I am currently taking some time off from school because I felt that I couldn’t handle the course work, and the job, and the extracurricular activities, on top of quite a bit of “life” that was occurring at the time.  The responsibility that I developed from my online high school helped me to make this decision.  My grades were dropping, my relationships were dissolving, and it felt like no matter where I turned, the ground would just keep falling away.  Eventually I backed myself into a corner because I was afraid of trying again, and failing again.  Looking back, I don’t know if I made the right decision, taking time off from school.  I do know this though, the only thing looking back is good for is to revisit your own actions and their consequences.  The best I can hope to do is make different decisions and keep taking steps, even when there isn’t any ground to stand on.  Stagnation is the absolute worst.

The air of responsibility that I gained from attending Colorado Virtual Academy allowed me to position myself to take charge of my own life.  To realize that sometimes you have to struggle to succeed.  To know that my education, my life and the decisions that make it up, are all my own responsibility, no one else’s.

Read more personal success stories from students and other stories about student success in online schools. Visit for more information about online education options.

Image courtesy of Sean Cooney

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