We forget how much young people pick up.
We’re reminded when well-spoken 17-year-olds of the 3.9 grade-point average variety tell us.
Before Nicholas Dean enrolled in the inaugural class of the Commonwealth Middle College — a program that took Dean out of a Lone High School classroom his junior year and onto a college campus earning college credits — Dean grew up in a missionary family.
“Growing up, we moved around a lot,” Dean said, referring to his parents, Beverly Wilkey and Mitch Dean. “That was really all my parents knew for so long.”
From ages 6 to 9, Dean lived with them in Honduras. When they moved back to the U.S., Dean said it was an adjustment for all of them, particularly for his parents trying to find jobs.
“I got to see first-hand, unfortunately, what a lack of formal education and career training can do,” Dean said. “I took that as a little kid and I just knew that I didn’t want to continue living in situations like that and I definitely didn’t want that for my own children if I ever had any. So I guess it just motivated me to push myself further.”
That’s part of what led Dean to be in the first Middle College class, which will net him 36 college credit hours heading into college in the fall.
He’s also launched Bible study groups among friends and classmates, and worked four jobs since 2007 while maintaining high grades.
“He has a maturity beyond his years,” said Donna Wear, Middle College principal.
Dean is the Murray State University Teen of the Week. Each Monday, the Sun features a different MSU Teen of the Week selected from nominees submitted by high school guidance counselors throughout western Kentucky and southern Illinois. In May, a Teen of the Year will be chosen from the weekly winners, earning a $5,000 scholarship to Murray State. Teen of the Week is part of the Sun’s Newspapers in Education program.
Just being part of the first Middle College class is enough to set Dean apart.
Students have to have at least a 2.5 grade-point average, a strong attendance record, and the ability to thrive within college academics and social life.
“(Dean) has a strong sense of academics, empathy for others and determination for his future that is unmatched,” Wear said.
Those who know Dean through church or school all describe a depth not cultivated in a lot of teenagers.
Dean launched a prayer group at the Middle College (legally sanctioned on a college campus). He also started the Students For a Cure Club, which as president he’s led in selling bracelets to raise awareness for multiple cancers. Proceeds go to charities.
Dean immersed himself in school groups including the Beta Club, Math Club and Chess Club. He’s volunteered with special needs adults through Creative Enterprises, a program Four Rivers Behavioral Health runs to foster daily living skills in people with developmental disabilities.
For about 13 hours a week since June, Dean has manned the concession stand at Paducah’s Cinemark movie theater. In 2007 to 2008, he worked stints at three jobs: busboy at the Kountry Kubbard restaurant in Cunningham, cleanup man for his mother’s Doggy Daycare business and a technician at Sanvik Medical Solutions in Arab, Ala. The latter is a company Dean’s father works for that makes medical devices. Dean said he helped scan and organize information into computer systems that made the company’s engineers more informed and efficient.
His proudest achievement in school was his induction this year into Phi Theta Kappa, an intercollegiate academic honors society. “That was a pretty awesome moment when I got my letter of invitation to an intercollegiate honors society when I was 17 and still in high school,” Dean said.
Not that his teachers and church ministers were surprised.
“Nick has a very caring spirit and a strong but humble leadership style,” said Brian Isbell, student minister at Lone Oak First Baptist Church. “He is a trusted leader in our youth group and is very reliable in his responsibilities.”
Donna Mattingly, school counselor, said: “He has a quiet strength that puts everyone at ease.”
Dean plans to attend Union University in Jackson, Tenn., to study in a pre-medical field and go on to medical school.
Contact Adam Shull, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.