In his element

Junior Billy Pahl makes the decision to jumpstart his future by graduating one year early


A. Panier

Pahl measures the temperature of the soil in his ecocolumn during his AP Environmental Science class.

By Abby Panier


The plastic crackles as junior William “Billy” Pahl carefully situates his group’s ecocolumn on the lab table. Eyeing the green shoots sprouting up in the top bottle, Pahl grabs a pink ruler and jots down different heights in centimeters. 

All AP Environmental Science students are required to grow a miniature ecosystem, something many of them look forward to, including Pahl. 

The 16-year-old is no stranger to AP classes, clocking in at four total for this year alone. All part of the plan to graduate in the spring with the Class of 2023. 

“He very much enjoys learning, which [as a teacher] is really cool to see,” AP Environmental Science teacher Alana Ferguson said. “He enjoys school, and you can tell he really cares about his education.”

A combination of summer classes and early college credits puts Pahl ahead of the game, but he did not consider cutting high school short until his friends brought it up. 

“Billy is a very sincere and driven person who will do anything he sets his mind to,” said Angie Favila, an alum and friend of Billy. “School and his friends are his priorities. He ensures to put in the time to accommodate both.”

Favila was the one to first bring up the option of graduating early to Pahl, on one of their last nights together before she left for college. Pointing out that he had enough credits to graduate by the end of junior year, Favila encouraged Pahl to fast-track his college dreams.

One week later, Pahl’s mind was made.

“All of my friends are graduating at the end of this year, and I to do that with them,” Pahl said. “I have everything that I need. It wasn’t going to make a huge difference in my plans.”

To help with the workload, Pahl took a studyhall, so he could focus not just on school but college applications as well. 

“I felt a lot more behind than a lot of my friends because they all have been on five to 10 college visits, and I’ve been on zero,” Pahl said. “I’ve just been doing the most of everything I can.”

To compensate for a missed summer of visits, Pahl crams in as many virtual tours and admissions meetings as possible. Finding the right fit is important to him, especially since he does not have the same timeline as traditional seniors. 

“I thought I’d be severely disadvantaged in the application,” Pahl said. “But I’ve just had to stress in my essays that this was a big decision and opportunity for me.”

With the support of his father and sister, Pahl hopes to get into his dream colleges on the East Coast. He has ambitions to major in physical sciences with a more specialized postgraduate degree, turning his love of science into a career.

“He has a passion for doing well and getting [things] done,” Ferguson said.

Pahl’s determination and kindness are well-known with both faculty and classmates, always one to lend a helping hand or offer advice.

“Everyone just loves Billy,” classmate and senior Bella Abordo said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say a bad thing about any of his peers,” Ferguson said. “I’ve never heard him say anything negative.”