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Economics senior graduates at 19, debt-free

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young grad

At 19, Joe Stone is not an average college graduate.

Stone, an economics major, cut his four years of college in half; graduating in just two years.

Not only did Stone fast-forward his college experience, he earned a 4.0 each semester and will have no student debt. 

“I didn’t expect to get a 4.0, but it just kind of happened,” Stone said.

Growing up, Stone said he was better known to his teachers and peers as the class clown, not the smart kid.

“As a kid, I wanted my teachers to think I’m not smart because one, then they don’t expect a lot, and two, I was always the class clown,” Stone said. “I didn’t study for the tests, but I always did well on them. I was this smart kid, but I never tried to be the smart kid, I just wanted to have fun.”

Stone said he was an average high school student his first two years, earning a 3.0. Until his junior year, when Stone decided to take advanced placement (AP) classes developed to give high school students an introduction to college-level classes and gain college credit before graduating high school. 

Stone excelled in his five AP classes, earning all A’s. 

“The only class I didn’t make an A in that year was actually German, which I made all C’s,” Stone said. 

Growing up with a father in the air force, Stone and his sister were eligible to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This bill was designed to help active military members serving after Sept. 11 pay for up to four years of college, which Stone’s father transferred to his children. Stone and his sister split the bill; each having two years of college completely paid for.

After graduating from Norman North High School in 2020, Stone made it his goal: he would be a debt free college graduate. 

“I thought, ‘If I can get all of this crammed into two years, then I don’t have to pay anything,’” Stone said. “I might as well try, why not?”

Stone decided on OSU for two reasons: 1. He wanted to stay in-state for college, and 2. OSU accepted enough of his AP credits so he could graduate in two years.

After earning 34 college credits from his AP classes in high school, Stone needed 86 more hours to complete a degree in economics. 

At first, Stone said his mom was skeptical of his decision.

“My mom said, ‘I don’t know if that’s a good idea, everybody that I’ve talked to said it’s going to be super hard, like impossible,’” Stone said. “Then, I went and got a 4.0 that first semester and that made me realize it was probably all going to work out just fine.”

His first year of college, Stone took 19 hours each semester. During the summer he took 10 hours, and finished his last two semesters with 19 hours each; totaling 120 hours.

Stone said he studies for almost eight hours on weekdays, leaving little time for a social life. During weekends, Stone works at Best Buy in Norman, his hometown. 

“College happened so fast,” Stone said. “I never went to a single game, I never went to a party or joined a club. I did a lot of studying.”

Stone said the hardest thing about his strenuous workload is balancing his personal relationships and school.

“My girlfriend lives in Norman, and I wish I had more time to spend with her and everyone around me,” Stone said.

In the long run, Stone said he knows that the two years spent studying will pay off. Stone was recognized during the Spears Business Best in Biz awards ceremony as a Top 5 senior in the department of economics. He was also honored in April as one of nine students statewide to be awarded a $2,000 scholarship by the Economics Club of Oklahoma.

 After graduation, Stone will attend law school at the University of Oklahoma.

“My mom and everybody while I was growing up said I should be a lawyer, because I’m really good at arguing with people,” Stone said. “As far as a career, I think it would be really cool to be a judge, but I just want to enjoy whatever I end up doing.”

Before then, Stone plans to take a break from studying and relax during the summer, for the first time in two years.

“There are a couple of things I want to do this summer, I want to read a book and I just want to lay on the floor and stare at a ceiling fan,” Stone said.

Stone said his positive mindset about studying will help him get through the next four years of law school.

"I try to remind myself that I'm doing this to learn, not just to get it done," Stone said. "Because if I'm just doing it to get it done, then it becomes a chore, and learning shouldn't be a chore."