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Student earns high school diploma, associate degree at age 15

Learning all she can is goal of advanced student

GRCC — During the Tri County High School graduation ceremony last month, senior Voca Ford gave a speech on the importance of personal fulfillment.

“I focused on pushing everyone to find happiness in their lives and not focus on objective or perceived success,” said Voca, who was one of three valedictorians at the Howard City school. “I think that’s really the most important thing in life — to do something you actually enjoy doing.”

What personal success will look like for Voca is anyone’s guess, but it’s safe to say anything is possible. When she walked across the Tri County stage to receive her diploma, she had already done the same at Grand Rapids Community College, where she received her associate degree in general studies.

While that’s an impressive feat for any high school senior, Voca is just 15 years old and started taking college courses at age 12.

Voca — who her mom, Tyana Ford, describes as “always a precocious child” and “like a sponge” — moved up several grade levels as a child, beginning with third-grade reading classes while in kindergarten. 

“I’ve always really enjoyed learning. It’s a weird thing to say because I feel a lot of life is just learning and adapting to what is around you,” said Voca, noting that her mother introduced her to math and reading very early on. “I really like the challenge of learning new things and broadening my horizons … Just learning as much as you can with as much time as you’re given is really important to me.”

Voca Ford, 15, is a graduate of GRCC and Tri County High School

An Accelerated Path

After Voca took algebra as a sixth-grader, administrators had her take the SAT to help determine her grade level for the following year. She scored an 1190 (in the 74th percentile nationally for the college entrance exam), and advanced directly to her freshman year of high school. 

Voca also took her first class at GRCC that summer, Introduction to Theatre, due to her interest in drama. She liked the course and continued taking GRCC courses along with her high school classes. During her senior year, she took four GRCC classes each semester. 

GRCC President Bill Pink said Voca is an example of how GRCC can be a great place for high-achieving students. 

“She is a remarkable story. We pride ourselves on meeting students where they are,” said Pink. “That can be an older student working hard to get that credential to advance in their careers and support their families, and it can be a 15-year-old ready to show the world she is ready to thrive in college.”

While at GRCC, Voca impressed her professors and fit in well in the college setting. 

“Voca had a poise and confidence, combined with a friendly nature, that made her an excellent fit with her college peers,” said Tom Kaechele, director of Spectrum Theater at GRCC. “I’m in awe of her remarkable achievement.” 

Because she had already finished her required high school credits, Voca spent a lot of time her senior year in Tri County music classrooms. A talented musician who plays flute and saxophone, she took band, jazz band and choir classes and also helped teach sixth- through eighth-grade band. 

“I’ve been involved with music all my life,” said Voca, whose father, Michael McIntosh, is a singer. 

Voca also has a passion for musical theater, and at Tri County she performed in “Seussical the Musical,” “Into the Woods” and “High School Musical.” Most recently, she performed as Audrey, the female lead in “Little Shop of Horrors,” saying, “It was really fun. It’s a role that I wanted to do all my life. It was probably my number one or number two dream role.”

She is currently rehearsing for the role of Dromio of Syracuse in the Shakespeare play “Comedy of Errors,” scheduled for July 30 and 31 at the Dogwood Center for Performing Arts in Fremont, and she is continuing to help out with Tri County’s band.

Playing Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors” was a dream role for Voca Ford

An Interest in Mental Health

This fall, Voca plans to embark on an eight-month externship in a psychiatric research program at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, as part of her journey to become a psychiatrist. She hopes to write a research paper based on the experience. 

After that, she is interested in enrolling in a six-year program at a university that lets students begin medical school early.

She credits several psychology courses at GRCC for helping to hone her interest in the field and pursue it professionally. 

“I’ve always really been interested in the field of mental health because I think it affects everybody, whether it’s depression or dealing with regular life,” she said.

Because she took many courses virtually this year, Voca said she was able to finish more courses than she would have otherwise.

“I’ve really enjoyed the incredible opportunities I’ve been able to have going to school at GRCC, as well as Tri County. I think I am very fortunate to do both of those, especially at the same time … I’ve really been very fortunate to get that opportunity and to get such a wonderful education.”

Voca Ford, in purple, plays flute and saxophone
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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