OCTECH’s valedictorian and salutatorian are taking different paths after graduation, but their determination unites them in their achievements.

Kaydence Shepardson, 17, is the valedictorian, and Clarice Carrasco, 18, is the salutatorian.

Part of Ector County ISD, OCTECHS is an early college high school where students can earn college credit or associate degrees while still in high school.

Graduation is set for 8 p.m. Friday at Odessa College Sports Center.

Shepardson earned an associate degree in criminal justice and Carrasco received an associate degree in business and industry.

Shepardson plans to attend Abilene Christian University and major in psychology with the idea of taking it into criminal justice to conduct evaluations for police officers.

Carrasco plans to become a veterinarian for large and small animals.

With her degree, Shepardson said she would be making sure that police officers can continue on in the field before they get through the process of recruitment and into policing.

“When you enter the police academy, you have to (undergo) an evaluation,” she said. “And if you’re in the police field and you get hurt or something, you have to undergo a psych evaluation before you can return to work in the field.”

Having taken criminal justice courses throughout her four years of high school and through Odessa College, she liked it but realized she didn’t want to become a police officer herself.

“I have an interest in psychology, so I thought why not put the two together,” Shepardson said.

Shepardson said she was “real excited” about reaching valedictorian, but she wasn’t sure about it at first because she and Carrasco were close.

“… The last three years have been flipping back and forth between who gets it and so this year I really pushed myself to do the best I could so I could get that achievement so I was really excited when it happened,” she added.

Graduation is a big milestone, Shepardson said, especially this year when students had online classes and not much face-to-face contact with teachers.

“… You had to have your own motivation to get through the year,” she said. “Your teachers … couldn’t push you as much this year to finish everything as they could in previous years where we were in person all year, so I think it’s a big achievement for anybody who is graduating.”

Shepardson added that it is a relief to be having commencement in person this year. She said one of her classmates died in a car accident the summer before senior year, so this gives the class a chance to honor her.

Shepardson said the small number of students was also a selling point.

“I’ve never been at a school that was huge and had a big number of kids,” Shepardson said. “I’m the type of kid that I like smaller groups where you can know everybody around you because I’m kind of shy, so I like to be able to know people so I can feel comfortable and confident. So I like the fact that it was small and I would be getting a head start on my college career.”

Shepardson has three younger siblings.

She was in the National Honor Society and Phi Theta Kappa on the college side.

Carrasco plans to attend Texas Tech and major in biology with a minor in business and industry. With that, she plans to apply to the veterinary school at Texas Tech.

She said she grew up on a farm and has seen her parents and relatives with animals large and small.

What appeals to her about the field is, “just knowing that I can be the voice for animals in need and that there’s a large demand for vets right now. … Right now during the pandemic, it really gets you thinking that the medical field and anything to do with medicine didn’t slow down. They were always busy.”

Like Shepardson, Carrasco wanted to get ahead in her career and OCTECHS was great to go to high school and get a degree at the same time.

She always wanted to be at the top of her class. When she was in middle school, Carrasco said she was fourth in her class.

“… These four years I’ve always been working hard putting school first” because she believed she would be able to achieve it, Carrasco said.

Her advice to peers on the fence about getting college credit or focusing on academics is that starting young helps.

“… Some might be more interested in going to parties or things like that, but you always have time for that later on in life. It’s good to start getting ahead, and by getting those college credits, you would have an advantage ahead of other people that might have chosen a different path,” Carrasco.

In addition to her school and farming, Carrasco is a bookkeeper for HEB off Loop 338 and University Boulevard.

“I’ve always loved math,” she said.

Graduation is an exciting, but scary concept to her “because it’s closing a chapter in my life and opening a new one for the future.”

One of the things Carrasco has enjoyed most about OCTECHS was being on a college campus at OC.

“You’re treated more like a college student, so you kind of get insight on how the future will be as well as the professors giving you advice for the future, like for careers, like jobs. It really helps being treated more like an adult,” she said.