A family of fast learners

LYNNWOOD – They might not have their driver’s licenses yet, but three 16-year-old cousins have credentials most people their age don’t.

The trio received their associate of arts degrees from Edmonds Community College Friday night and are the school’s youngest graduates in at least five years.

“We all enjoy a challenge,” said Jessica Vasquez-Soltero.

She’s joined in the accomplishment by cousins Mario Vasquez-Ceja of Edmonds and Carolina Vasquez-Ceja of Mountlake Terrace.

They have spent years together in classes as diverse as math and karate at the Edmonds Home School Resource Center. They started college at age 14 and often shared the same instructors at EdCC.

“We never really thought it was anything special,” said Carolina. “We never thought that our age would really matter.”

They dove into high school-level math while other kids their age were still in elementary school.

They tried out foreign languages, each taking Spanish, French, American Sign Language, Latin, Japanese and German along the way. Mario continued his Japanese at EdCC and may also study it at the University of Washington.

Through the state’s Running Start program, the students were able to earn high school diplomas from the home-school resource center and their EdCC degrees simultaneously.

Running Start allows high school students to earn college credits without paying tuition, a big cost savings to their families. During the spring quarter, 30 high school students earned an associate degree from EdCC.

Jessica plans to return to EdCC to finish an associate of science degree and transfer to the University of Washington with the goal of attending dental school.

Mario also plans to go to the UW. Carolina is deciding between the UW’s Seattle and Bothell campuses. Both eventually want to go to law school.

Although home-schooled, much of their learning time was at the home-school resource center, where they would sometimes be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Basically, they like to learn.

“Really, we didn’t feel rushed,” Jessica said. “This was our pace.”

The importance of an education was stressed by their grandfather, Felipe Vasquez, who emigrated from Mexico and settled in the Yakima Valley, where he was a carpenter and an accountant. He also advocated for farm workers’ rights.

His 11 children graduated from high school and attended college.

His message spread to later generations.

“Our grandfather instilled it in our parents and they, in turn, instilled it in us,” Jessica said.

Mario, who also plays guitar in a rock band in his spare time, doesn’t expect to begin at the UW in the winter quarter.

“I’ve got time,” he said, smiling.

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or stevick@heraldnet.com.

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