Meet the youngest graduate in Central Penn College’s 140-year history

How this motivated student graduated college at 17

At an age when most of her peers are focused on completing their senior year of high school, Michelle Donaghy has already graduated––from college, that is! In December, she completed her final 18 credits to earn her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Central Penn College.

Four months prior, she had just celebrated her 17th birthday. Yes, you’ve read that correctly, Michelle Donaghy earned a four-year degree eight months before she’s even allowed to legally vote in this country. As you may have already surmised, she is the youngest graduate in Central Penn’s 140-year history. How amazing is that?

But, wait, it gets better… During her 16 months at Central Penn, she took a full course load (15/18 credits) every term, while attending year-round, thanks to Central Penn’s accelerated, quarterly schedule.

In addition, for the last year or so, she worked 30+ hours a week as a business analyst (!) for Highmark. And if her schedule wasn’t maxed out enough, she also served as president of the Student Government Association (SGA) during 2021.

How was she able to do this?

From kindergarten through high school, Donaghy attended Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA), a cyber school based in Harrisburg. Bright, curious and disciplined, she always worked ahead.

“My parents were great motivators. They really encouraged me to learn as much as possible,” said Donaghy, who grew up in Mechanicsburg.

When she got to ninth grade, she began taking AP and college courses, enabling her to graduate from high school at 15. A month or so later in July, she began her college career as a sophomore at Central Penn in the summer term of 2020.

Something new – In-person classes

Donaghy took a mix of online and in-person classes, commuting from her home in Mechanicsburg. Her mother would usually give her ride, since Donaghy doesn’t have a driver’s license yet, though it’s on her to-do list for 2022. “It’s something I plan on getting pretty soon,” she said.

She admits to being somewhat anxious about taking in-person classes. “Coming from a cyber-charter school,” she says, “the in-person classes were new to me, so my first one at CPC was nerve-racking.

“I wasn’t the first person to talk, but the small classroom sizes, support from professors and peer interactions helped me become more comfortable in that setting.” She gives a big shout-out to Dr. Anne Bizup and Instructor Bob Wesoloskie for helping her overcome her shyness regarding those first in-person classes.

Those positive classroom experiences were transformative, motivating Donaghy to get more involved with campus activities. “I went from being quiet to actively engaging in class, clubs and other events,” she says.
Student Government

A few months later, she would announce her candidacy for SGA president. She would run on a campaign of transparency… and she would win!

After CPC was locked down for the last nine months of 2020, it was critical that the Summerdale campus once again become a vibrant and active place for students. SGA President Donaghy and her team were on task throughout 2021, scheduling plenty of activities and events to increase student engagement.

“Michelle is an absolute rock star–– I truly enjoyed working with her during her term as SGA President!” says Adrienne Thoman, dean of Student Engagement.

“I was so impressed by her commitment and desire to be a voice for the student body,” continues Thoman. “I was so proud of how she collaborated with a number of other clubs on campus to revise and revamp CLUB WARS. We hadn’t held the event in a few years, and thanks to Michelle’s leadership, it came back stronger than ever!”

In addition to Club Wars, here are just a few of the events Donaghy and her team (SGA officers are pictured) were instrumental in planning and organizing during her time as SGA president:

  • Movie Night
  • Game Night
  • Knights at the Round Table
  • Fall Harvest
  • Therapy Dogs for end of term

Donaghy also has “a heart for service,” says Thoman. “She led the winning team in the 2021 Raise The Roof Campaign, volunteered regularly at our supply drives and worked with Caring Heart Pet Therapy to bring this valuable group to campus.”

What the future holds

As a college graduate at 17, Donaghy plans on taking a break from school for a while. She hopes to increase her hours at her Highmark job to 40 hours. And get her driver’s license in the near future.

Summing up the sentiments of many at Central Penn, Thoman says, “Michelle has definitely made her mark at CPC, and we are going to miss her here!”

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