Editor's note: This is the third part in a three-part series on the S.C. Connections Academy.

Matthew Guy graduated last month from the S.C. Connections Academy – a statewide virtual school with 3,400 students. Simultaneously, Guy has earned 19 credits from USC Aiken. He's only 16.

The academy “has been an experience that's been interesting, to say the least,” he said about his three-year enrollment. “It's different in that you work on your own. I could go (online) to teachers for help, but it's really at your own pace. Once you understand that, you can go ahead and finish several months early.”

Guy was attending a public middle school when he was diagnosed with diabetes. It was so hard to manage that his parents, Jon and Robin Guy, had to take him out of school.

Matthew started out with traditional home school with his mom as his teacher.

“He told me if I was a teacher in the schools, they would hate me because I'm so hard,” Robin said with a laugh. “But I knew what he was capable of.”

By the time Matthew reached high school, however, Robin knew he needed more independence from his parents. That's when the academy emerged. He and other students also conducted a live session with each teacher once a week – essentially a conference call.

Matthew previously experienced a lot of health problems related to diabetes, and he had to miss time with the academy. But he had the advantage of making up the work at home whenever he could. He is using an insulin pump as needed, giving him far more freedom for academics and other activities.

Matthew graduated at 16 unexpectedly. Robin and Jon thought he was a sophomore, but academy officials said the work he had completed to that point qualified him as a junior. Matthew also started taking classes at USCA, and that allowed him to finish the academy another semester early.

At the same time, Matthew especially enjoyed the range of opportunities at the academy in its course options.

He was studying Spanish and wanted more – specifically Mandarin Chinese. Connections has a teacher from New York who provides that class with lessons in the language as well as the culture.

Last month, Matthew joined more than 200 other seniors at a brick-and-mortar graduation event.

“That was a very nice ceremony,” he said. “What I loved about Connections is that I had lost my best friend (previously from Aiken). He moved to Myrtle Beach, and through Connections we resumed our friendship.”

Returning to the classroom at USCA has been a culture shock, Matthew said. He has taken pre-calculus, introduction to chemistry, American government, U.S. history and more.

With his work at the academy and the university, “I've had the best of both worlds,” he said.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter.