Aggressive leukemia knocked Kim Christensen out of R.A. Long High School in her freshman year, but it didn't keep her from getting her diploma.
Thursday night Christensen, 19, graduated from Career Education Options, a high school completion program at Lower Columbia College. She was one of about 40 CEO and GED graduates who marched in caps and gowns in the Wollenberg Auditorium Thursday night.
Next quarter she'll be a full-time college student at LCC.
"It feels like a whole chapter is gone away and I don't have to worry about that any more," Christensen said. "I can't believe I'm on to college. I'm a college student!"
Christiansen was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in March 2009. She tried to keep up with her studies after she began chemotherapy.
"I couldn't do it. I was too tired," she said. "I even tried online work, but I couldn't keep up."
She received a bone marrow transplant a few days before her 17th birthday in October 2010. For the first 100 days after the transplant she was isolated from "normal" environments such as stores, restaurants and especially school.
"There's a kingdom of germs there," she said.
"At that point ... I knew that if I went back to normal high school that I'd have to start pretty much over again. I would be behind because of all the school I'd missed. We found out there was a CEO program at the college. You could get your high school diploma but you could go at your own pace. ... So it worked for me. I was still going to (doctor) appointments every week."
The CEO program, which LCC began offering in 2000, is a little different from the GED. The CEO is for students of high school age, while the average GED recipient has been out of high school for seven years.
And the CEO requires actual course work. To earn the GED certificate, students must score higher on each of the five subject-area tests than 60 percent of graduating high school seniors. To earn a state diploma through the CEO program, students must spend 25 hours per week in school and meet the Washington Assessment of Student Learning requirements for graduation.
Christensen said she enjoyed going to classes, which were held in a large room on the LCC campus.
"The teachers are great," she said. "They're always there to work with you. It's just nice to be able to go at your own pace with people who understand and want to help you."
Other than the number of teachers, the CEO classroom has similarities to the old-style one-room schoolhouse, where all students were in the same room with each of them working at a different level.
"Everybody's doing different subjects at the same time," Christensen said. "It can be a little chaotic, but at the same time it's kind of fun and social."
Her favorite course was ecology, which she liked so much that she went on to take the college-level equivalent, environmental science.
"That was pretty fun, too," she said.
Now cancer free, Christensen says she hasn't yet decided on her college major. She intends to earn a general transfer degree from LCC before making a final choice.
"It gives you time to figure out what you want to do, because I have no idea," she said.