Education — Cassidy Helikson's passion for music drives her to graduate from NHS in just three years

Every year, Theresa Conrad gets an inquiry from a student or two at Newberg High School who wants to know what it will take to graduate early.

According to the Yellow School counselor, the really driven students are able to do it a semester early.

by: FILE PHOTO - Overachiever - Cassidy Helikson stands during graduation ceremonies June 6 at Newberg High School. Helikson, who will attend California Lutheran on a full-tuition music scholarship, graduated in just three years. So it was a rare request when then-sophomore Cassidy Helikson asked Conrad about graduating a full year early and even more exceptional when the 17-year-old pulled it off with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average earning salutatorian honors to boot.

“She’s just really a self starter,” Conrad said. “She applied to more colleges to any other student that I know and I believe she got accepted to all of them. She’s a pretty amazing girl.”

Yellow School principal Stafford Boyd said that the reason a student wants to graduate early can be a key factor and not just due to the increased coursework, but also because navigating all the ins and outs of applying for college a year early can be a challenge.

To handle all of that and have to make some tough choices that often lead to missing out some experiences that are often quite important to other students requires a mature person with a strong sense of self, which Boyd saw in Helikson.

“There’s not a right or wrong purpose,” Boyd said. “It’s just that there’s a level of commitment and understanding so that there is follow through, that it’s fully executed.”

For Helikson, the drive was her passion for music.

After teaching herself how to play the piano at age 10, Helikson began taking lessons a couple of years later. At the time she started doing that, she begin playing the clarinet before switching to flute.

For the last few years, she has been taking lessons in piano, flute and voice, which means she spends most of her free time practicing.

As a freshman, Helikson was moved up to the top band at NHS after one semester and also spent time outside of school playing with the Portland Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, which she stopped after a year because the driving back and forth to Portland was too much.

“It was incredible,” Helikson said of the philharmonic experience. “It’s music that I never would have been exposed to, at least until college, that I got to play as a freshman and playing with musicians that have been playing since they were 3 years old. It was crazy.”

Although Helikson thoroughly enjoyed taking AP music theory as a sophomore — she loves to know how things work — she didn’t much enjoy her first year and a half of high school. Knowing exactly what she wanted to pursue, she was ready to concentrate her energies on that and inquired about what it would take to graduate a year early.

“I’ve known I wanted to do music as a career for my entire life and kind of felt like I had maxed out on the music classes I could take,” Helikson said. “I just never felt like I fit anywhere at the high school, so I wanted to finish as quickly as possible.”

To do it, Helikson needed to take a full year of history and a semester of health online this last year, as well as two English classes at NHS simultaneously.

Aside from the few times that she had essays to write for both English classes, Helikson said the amount of homework she had was never too much, but choosing a college was not as straightforward.

Originally intending to attend a music conservatory on the East Coast, Helikson changed her mind, opting instead for a small religious school after visiting her godmother in California.

After visiting schools with her mother in the summer following her sophomore year, Helikson whittled down her list to two favorites, California Lutheran and Biola University.

After applying and being accepted to both, Helikson flew down in March to audition on the flute at California Lutheran after getting a better scholarship package from the Thousand Oaks school.

A few weeks later, she received a text from the head of the school of music, who said to make sure to get out of class so she could take his call.

“So I answered my phone and he said, ‘Cassidy, we have to take away your academic scholarship,’” Helikson said. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. My heart is already set on California Lutheran and I can’t afford it without the scholarships.’ Then he said, ‘Because the music department is paying your full tuition.’ It was really mean of him. I really took the bait.”

While in a rush to get off to college, Helikson ended up having a better high school experience her final year, even thinking at one point that she wanted to stay.

“I think every senior gets to a point where they don’t feel they’re ready to go to college. I was still 16 until (three weeks) ago and I didn’t think I was ready to move to L.A. and go live by myself. But I got over it and I think that this year went and ended very well.”

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