Forest City resident graduates from Western Carolina at 18

At an age when many young people are preparing to go to college, 18-year-old Brittany Amber Nicole Burke has graduated from Western Carolina University with a bachelor’s degree.

The daughter of Tim and Wendy Burke of Forest City completed her academic requirements last spring semester to earn her degree in criminal justice. Her parents, three siblings, fiancé and extended family and friends were in Cullowhee on the afternoon of Saturday, May 7, to watch her walk across the stage as commencement ceremonies are held for WCU’s College of Business, College of Health and Human Sciences, and the Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology.

A native of Spartanburg, S.C., Burke was raised in Chesnee, S.C., and just over the North Carolina border in the Forest City area. She graduated in 2009 from Chase High School and enrolled at WCU in August 2009 as a 17-year-old.

“I decided to attend WCU because I was looking for something close to home and I heard the university has a great criminal justice program,” she said.

Burke came to WCU with 24 hours of college credit she earned as a high school student enrolled in an Isothermal Community College dual-enrollment program, and she took six to seven courses every semester at WCU, including over the summer of 2010.

A dean’s list student, Burke has been enrolled in WCU’s Honors College since spring 2010. She plans to attend the Charlotte School of Law as a part-time student beginning in August, with long-range plans of becoming an attorney working in family law or banking and finance. She minored in business administration and finance at WCU.

Burke says she found herself to be much younger than her classmates in most of her classes at Cullowhee, but that age difference hasn’t been a hindrance.

“We all interact the same,” she said.

Burke said she has particularly enjoyed classes taught by criminal justice faculty members Jamie Vaske and Lisa Briggs, and business law faculty members Bruce Berger and Debra Burke.

“All these professors have been wonderful and have taught me things that I will carry with me throughout my career,” she said. “In particular, Dr. Vaske, who taught the ‘capstone’ course for my major, has influenced me greatly this semester and has made a huge impact on my life, educationally and personally. I can’t express enough gratitude to her for all that she has done.”

While on WCU’s campus, Burke has worked as an office assistant in the Accounts Payable Department.

“Leaving my friends in accounts payable will be like leaving my second family and home-away-from-home,” she said.

Also, Judy Garner, a WCU staff member who works in another campus office, Student Accounts, “has really been wonderful and like a second mother to me,” she added.

Burke’s graduation isn’t the only big event on her appointment calendar. She also will be getting married in a couple weeks.