• Tri-County Early College valedictorian Magnus Fonda and salutatorian Taylor Cook are ready for graduation. Photo by Ben Katz
    Tri-County Early College valedictorian Magnus Fonda and salutatorian Taylor Cook are ready for graduation. Photo by Ben Katz

GRADUATION 2019: Early College's top students rack up degrees

    Peachtree – Last week, Magnus Fonda of Andrews graduated from Tri-County Community College with the highest grade point average in the associate of science program.
    Next week, Fonda will lead the Tri-County Early College High School Class of 2019 as their valedictorian. Taylor Cook of Brasstown is the salutatorian.
    “A lot people think it’s confusing,” Cook said of earning her associate’s degree before her high school diploma. “I think it’s exciting.”
    Both decided to attend the Early College because of the opportunity to earn a two-year college degree while still in high school. They said the initial transition was rough – Fonda was one of five kids from his Andrews Middle School class who went to the Early College, but only four are graduating – but it has made them more confident as they go on to continue their education at larger schools away from home.
    Fonda plans to continue his studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, majoring in biomedical engineering. He has always had an interest in the origin of life, and having medical applied to it would make the interest more useful.
    He said the engineering part spoke to him because of his love of critical thinking and research. He wants to use his future degree to work on genome sequencing.
    Cook, who would like return to the Early College someday as a high school history teacher, will be continuing her education at Western Carolina University. She said the way teacher Joe Thorley taught her to research history in debate class inspired her to choose teaching as a career.
    Fonda said former math and physics teacher Ben Owens did a lot for him while he was at the school, and Principal Alissa Cheek had definitely made an impact on his future. He liked their philosophy about teaching.
    “Every student she has is special, and Mr. Owens shared that,” Fonda said.
    Cook said in addition to Thorley’s impact on her life, Cheek helped her develop into a stronger person, starting freshman year with her words of inspiration.
    Cheek struggled to find words to say when she heard both students included her as their favorite teacher.
    “This whole class is really special to me,” she said. “They’re not just really good students academically. They are both kind and giving, especially when it comes to the school.”
    Part of their education journey at the school includes service-learning projects and project-based learning. Fonda found his time tutoring a young girl at Martins Creek School to be rewarding.
    “She wasn’t a native speaker, so it was challenging,” he said.
    Cook’s most memorable service project was organizing a foster care clothing drive. It impacted her because as a future teacher, she would want all of her students to feel comfortable, and clothing can make an impact on a child being comfortable.
    Fonda also enjoyed being able to work with his grandfather, Hank Fonda, on the hometown heritage project last year, and seeing what other teams presented at the project’s heritage festival.
    “I liked getting to tell my own story,” he said.
    Fonda said he was thankful for his father for proofreading every essay he wrote, and his mother for first giving him the idea to go to the Early College.
    Cook thanked her parents and grandparents for their support through school.
    “They always pushed me to do my best,” she said.
    Fonda was a member of the Technology Team and Beta Club. Cook was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Prom Committee, Student Council and Beta Club. Cheek said both were academic honors students and in Phi Theta Kappa for the college.

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