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Ashby 14-year-old earns college degree

Neil Turner, 14, gets a helping hand with his graduation gown from his mother, Marla, before commencement ceremonies Monday night at the Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls. (David Samson/The Forum)

FERGUS FALLS - Neil Turner earned a college degree Monday night.

But the 14-year-old doesn't graduate from high school until later this month.

Turner, of Ashby, is believed to be the youngest to graduate from Minnesota State Community and Technical College.

Admitted at age 12 to the two-year campus in Fergus Falls, Turner earned an associate of arts degree at the same time as he completed his high school graduation requirements.

Though some at MSCTC were initially skeptical about admitting such a young student, Turner not only graduated Monday, he did so with high academic honors and a 3.9 grade point average.

"It feels really good to know that I made it through all the hard work it took," said Turner, who wore a gold stole and blue and gold honor cords over his graduation gown to signify his membership in two honor societies.

About 10 family members attended Monday's ceremony and cheered as Turner walked across the stage.

Turner was home-schooled and will also participate in a high school commencement ceremony later this month at Twin Oaks High School in Fergus Falls, where he received tutoring.

At MSCTC, many students didn't realize Turner was so much younger until some news reports featured him.

But students didn't treat him any differently, Turner said. One of his proudest moments was being elected an officer by fellow members of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.

"I think because he did so well academically, they (other students) just ended up looking on him as a peer," said his mother, Marla Turner.

It also helped that Turner is tall - nearly 6 feet - and didn't stand out in a crowd.

Chemistry instructor Ramona Caswell, who had Turner in three classes, said he is an excellent student.

"He doesn't have the life experiences as other people did, but he definitely had the curiosity," Caswell said. "I think he'll do great things."

This fall, Turner will attend the University of Minnesota Morris and plans to double-major in chemistry and history.

He expects to complete that in two years and then attend graduate school for archaeology.

Turner will be the youngest student at the Morris campus since at least 2000, and possibly longer, said Kalee Nuest of the university's Admissions Office.

Turner should be successful because he is accustomed to the challenge of college coursework and has a strong family support network, Nuest said.

"I think he's very much ready to take the next step academically," Nuest said.

He will live at home and commute about 45 minutes daily.

Turner's sister, Morgan, 15, plans to attend Morris this fall as a Post-Secondary Enrollment Option student and will drive them when she gets her driver's license.

Turner said he's excited to go to a college that's high-ranked academically.

"I think it will be a good match," Turner said.