Thousands of proud parents filled the Frank Erwin Center to watch their 17- and 18-year-olds walk across the stage in caps and gowns.

But they did it out of order. They haven’t even walked in their high school graduation, but Thursday, 162 students — a record number — walked away with college degrees at no cost. 

“I’m… very, very happy and proud of him,” Wendy Westry said. She’s a single mother who was there watching her high school senior son, Tre’Neal Williams, walk across the stage. 

“Especially [for] single parents like me [who are] raising several kids, this is a big help because these kids can go further than what the parents have achieved,” Westry said. 

Williams told us he started Early College High Schools at Austin Community College his sophomore year. Back then, he was at Travis High School. When he transferred to Del Valle High School, he continued the program there.

He said his days began at Del Valle. “It starts at 8:30, and I have one class period there,” he explained. After that, he said he had a study hall, and in the afternoon, he said, “As soon as it hits like 1 o’clock, I get on the bus at 1, and the bus takes us [to ACC] hopefully before 1:30.”

Williams is the first Del Valle student to graduate from the early college program. ACC’s executive director of High School and College Relations Shasta Buchanan said they began partnering with Del Valle ISD in 2015.

ACC has partnerships with five other districts: Austin, Del Valle, Manor, Elgin, Round Rock and Bastrop. They said each district sets aside money in their budget to help fund the program. The district covers tuition, fees and textbooks. 

Williams said while juggling several classes at ACC wasn’t easy, he said, “it’s totally worth it.”

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