John Gomez will be one of about 2,000 Scottsdale students donning a cap and gown tonight, ready to bid goodbye to his high school years.
But two things stand out about Gomez: The Saguaro High School junior is one of 14 Scottsdale students earning a diploma early this year. And he's doing it so he can travel with his band, leaving for a nearly three-month long tour 48 hours after graduation.
While there's not a huge number of Scottsdale students graduating early each year, and the specific reasons vary from student to student, they all seem to share one thing: They're focused more on their dream jobs early on, said Corrine Benjamin, head counselor at Saguaro.
"They are highly motivated and focused students who have defined career goals," Benjamin said. "The incredible focus really isn't on their high school career, but is on their future career."
That's the case for Gomez, who has been passionate about music since elementary school. He's played the violin for nine years and has sung in choir throughout high school.
But the band idea started when Gomez was in sixth grade. He and his older brother, Stephen, were listening to a Blink 182 album one afternoon and decided they needed to learn to play instruments.
John ended up on guitar, Stephen on bass, and they played with several different bands in subsequent years.
The fifth band was the charm. The Summer Set formed last April and was signed to the record label The Militia Group last month. The bandgenerated a lot of buzz early on, Gomez said, so when he checked his credits last July, he decided to graduate early.
"If you get the chance, when your band gets big buzz in the industry, you've got to grab it," he said.
And while he said it will be weird to come back from tour in the fall and find his friends in school, he's not too torn up about it.
"High school kind of 'was' for me," he said. "It just kind of 'was.' It wasn't a big high in my life."
Gomez's mom, Jean Gomez, spent a lot of time communicating with John's teachers and counselors to make sure everything worked out. While most of the credits were taken care of, he had to take two online classes to graduate, she said.
While she acknowledges that traveling with a band isn't the normal path for students, she has full confidence her sons will end up with college degrees.
"School will always be there," she said. "To me, it's kind of a reverse internship. This is the area that you like, music, but what do you like about it?"
She hopes her son will find the answer to that question before he heads to college. And college is definitely in John Gomez's plans. He's got the grades - in fact, he's graduating with a 3.7 GPA - and is already thinking about studying the business aspects of either the music or culinary industries.
Other students are skipping their high school graduation and going straight to college. Arcadia High School sophomore Alexandra Smith is starting this fall at Bard College in Simons Rock, Mass., a school that only admits 16- and 17-year-olds.
Smith has already taken several advanced classes, including a college class. And she knows she wants to study astrophysics and end up with a career in academia. So going to college early seemed like a natural step.
"It's easier to just take the college class and get the college credit than it is to take the AP exam and wrangle with the college for credit," she said.
Her plan is to transfer credits back from her college in order to fulfill high school requirements, then walk with her class next year.
"I made sure to go to prom this year, so I don't think I'll miss too much," she said. "It'll probably be a little awkward, but I'll hope to keep in touch with my friends."