Teen with a dream
Meet the 17-year-old who is making history as one of MSU Denver’s youngest graduates.
It’s like someone hit the fast-forward button on Anna Jane Watson.
The 17-year-old from Littleton will slow down long enough to cross the finish line in May and nab diplomas from her high school, Colorado Early College Inverness and Metropolitan State University of Denver, making her one of the University’s youngest graduates ever.
“It feels like the hard work I’ve put in the last few years has paid off, and I’m extremely relieved to be done,” said Watson, who’ll graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics and a minor in Computer Science from MSU Denver. “I’d say what I enjoyed most was going to MSU Denver and feeling like an actual college student. Once everything went back to in-person, I just liked hanging out, making a ton of friends and studying and playing volleyball with them.”
Watson admits she has always been an overachiever.
“I was always very motivated,” she said. “It was kind of problematic at some points. Like in middle school, if I didn’t get 100% on an assignment, I would have a complete mental breakdown. I definitely always had a need to push myself.”
She said her typical day often starts around 6 a.m. to begin juggling classes, studying, socializing and running a part-time tutoring business. Bedtime ranges from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Watson’s time-management tools include lists and detailed schedules.
“Whenever I would get super-overwhelmed,” she said, “I would just write down all the stuff I had to get done. It was more for my sanity, but it was really helpful.”
The plan to graduate early got started because of injuries. Watson started taking gymnastics early in life. “I did gymnastics for about 11 years,” she said. “My whole childhood was like, ‘I’m gonna go to the Olympics.’ That was my goal.”
But just before high school, she snapped tendons in her right foot and shattered a fibula, the thinner bone in the lower leg. “So I couldn’t compete anymore,” she said. “And that was when I was like, I have so much free time now, I’ve gotta do something.”
She remembered reading an article about a girl who had earned her bachelor’s degree at age 20, so Watson began to investigate options. “I asked my mom if she thought that was something I could do,” she said.
A few weeks later, after some testing at age 13, she was greenlit to begin taking math and English courses full-time at Arapahoe Community College near her home.
Then last spring, at age 16, she was able to transfer her college credits to MSU Denver and take advantage of the University’s College Credit in High School program, which has served 5,100-plus high school students since it began in 2014.
Jessica Buckmaster, manager of the College Credit in High School program, said Watson deserves credit for improving CCHS and benefiting high school students taking classes at MSU Denver in the future.
Buckmaster said that for Watson to apply for graduation, she needed to declare a major and minor. But CCHS required students to be non-degree-seeking, which meant they couldn’t declare majors.
“This prevented Anna and students like her from using their degree-progress report, an online tool that tracks a student’s degree progress and requirements,” Buckmaster said. “Anna asked the question ‘why?’ and that prompted CCHS to work with the Office of Admissions and the Office of the Registrar to change the policy that high school students had to be non-degree-seeking.”
Buckmaster called Watson “an amazing student” who embodies MSU Denver’s slogan “Reimagine Possible.”
“Some might think it’s impossible for a high school student to complete a bachelor’s degree at age 17, but Anna has made the impossible possible,” Buckmaster said. “I know that her story is just getting started and that whatever she imagines, she will make a reality.”
RELATED: Fast finish
Watson, who holds a 3.25 GPA, said a key lesson she has learned from all her work is to remember to be more self-compassionate.
“I think my main takeaway was that I need to be a little nicer to myself and to just find more balance,” she said. “There was a while there where I pushed myself a little too hard. So this year, I’ve really been trying to figure out how to balance everything. I know that’s kind of like a weird lesson — like you don’t have to try as hard.”
Up next for Watson? “I was going to go to grad school, but my parents said I needed a break,” she said.
The “break” includes growing her tutoring business to a full-time endeavor, then spending six months doing volunteer missionary work abroad in poor countries. Eventually, she thinks she’ll work in the computer-science field.
“We’ll see what happens,” she said.