HUFFPOST PERSONAL

I'm Only 9, And I'm Already In College. Here's What Life Is Like For Me.

The author.
The author.

I was a 3-year-old preschooler when I corrected my teacher’s knowledge of the constitutional requirements to be U.S. president. In kindergarten, I learned that telling my friends that Bashar al-Assad was using chemical weapons against his own people would cause kids to cry on the playground. My parents received a call from an unhappy principal that day. And telling my third-grade science teacher that her knowledge of gravity lacked depth earned me a spot on her naughty list for the rest of the year.

Adults are constantly telling me how to think and what to say. But mostly what not to say! After my doctors tested my IQ to be above the 99.9th percentile in third grade and said my EQ (emotional intelligence) was also surprisingly high, everything changed and adults started taking me more seriously ― I finally felt that I was being heard. The tests showed that I was something called “profoundly gifted.” I was admitted into Mensa International, a program for individuals with a high IQ, and became a Davidson Institute Young Scholar. My parents started getting professional advice in order to learn more about the needs of profoundly-gifted kids, and they moved me to a specialized elementary school. Today we live in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Pleasanton, and I attend both fourth grade and college. I am having an awesome time.

People always ask if I am a “genius,” but my parents explain that genius is an action ― it requires solving big problems that have a human impact. Right now I am a 9-year-old boy with very strong skills in some areas. Mom says she’s the only genius in the house because it takes one to keep this house from falling apart! I roll my eyes! Mom also claims that IQ comes from the “X” chromosome. Dad rolls his eyes! My family is very funny.  

You probably have an image of 'gifted' kids as weird bookworms with no social skills. But I think of myself as any other normal, happy kid.

You probably have an image of “gifted” kids as weird bookworms with no social skills. But I think of myself as any other normal, happy kid. I collect Pokémon cards and know all the dance moves in Fortnite. I have a lot of friends, and we make naughty jokes and play basketball and games. I don’t always get A’s on tests; my family does not believe that grades are that important. I sneak in video games when my parents aren’t looking. And I get grounded for breaking rules. Actually, I am grounded right now from using the iPad. My parents lecture me all the time that I am failing something called a marshmallow test. But I think my parents are failing the patience test. Let’s just say I am glad to be too old for timeouts.

It’s true that there are some things that I am weirdly good at. The doctors call it “asynchronous learning.” That means I can learn academic subjects at an accelerated speed and even out of sequence. For example, I learned linear algebra concepts before I ever took a formal algebra class. My parents like to say that I literally “Khan Academy’ed” my way into college. But there are other areas where my brain is still catching up, like handwriting, spelling and taking notes. I am using spellcheck a lot for this essay! Also, I am just OK on piano, and I don’t learn foreign languages easily. I am trying to challenge myself by learning Bengali from my family and Mandarin from my very patient tutor Ms. Vienna. Please wish me luck!  

But I do have a knack for computer languages. I started Python programming at YoungWonks coding academy at just 7 years old. Today I am among the academy’s most advanced Python students, and I used my Python background to teach myself more than a dozen coding languages and interfaces. I am also taking an open-source masterclass on machine learning.

I am also obsessed with books. A good book makes me forget to finish my meals and get ready on time for school. This causes my parents to yell a lot. Wait, isn’t reading supposed to be a good thing? A few of my favorite books from 2018 were: Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, George Orwell’s 1984 and the Game of Thrones series. I tried reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, but the writing was dry and boring. But I also like reading books that many of my friends are reading, such as Captain Underpants, the Harry Potter series (I read all eight books in the eight weeks of summer break after first grade), The Percy Jackson series and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

I learned linear algebra concepts before I ever took a formal algebra class. But there are other areas where my brain is still catching up, like handwriting, spelling and taking notes. I am using spellcheck a lot for this essay!

More than anything else, I am famous in our social circle for being a political junkie. I have watched every presidential debate since I was 3 years old, starting with Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. My favorite news sources are HuffPost, NPR and MSNBC. I am obsessed with Rachel Maddow. Maybe because she grew up in the same Bay Area city where I was born. I even had a chance to ask my congressman, Eric Swalwell, at a recent community meeting about the Democrats’ Supreme Court strategy. But I think he was more focused on my age instead of my question. By the way, he is 1 of 1,000 Democrats thinking about running for president!

In the daytime, I attend fourth grade at a specialized gifted school called Helios in Sunnyvale. Even though I am new to the school this year, I finally feel that I have teachers and friends who understand me and don’t try to change me. We sit on rocking chairs to help with our fidgetiness, and we can even go for a quick run or do jumping jacks during class if that helps us think better. They encourage us to be autonomous and accountable learners while working in groups. We don’t get homework, and the subjects are taught to fit the way our brains work. We learn mostly by researching and completing complex projects, and the subjects are integrated so that we understand real-life connections between math, science, economics and humanities. The best part is that I have not been sent to the principal’s office even once this semester! I even got elected to the Student Council, and my friends are so proud of me and brag to everyone that I attend college.

After day school, I attend Las Positas College, where I am working on my associate degrees in chemistry and math. Did you know that Sir Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking were Lucasian Professors of mathematics at Cambridge University? I had to go through interviews and assessments to prove to the administration that I had both the scholastic aptitude and the executive functions to attend college. Now the administration and professors treat me like any other student. I follow the same rules, and the classes cannot be modified for me.

Being an extrovert has helped me make a lot of friends in college ― they even ask me to tutor them. Whenever I start a new class, other students give me curious looks, and I can see some people secretly taking photos and videos of me. I hear them whispering, “He’s so cute!” or “He’s so smart!” but I try to break the ice by introducing myself so they can see that it’s OK to talk to me and be my friend. I also send my professors an email before the first day of class so that they are not confused when I walk in.          

Before I started college, my parents used to let me try anything I wanted as long as I showed interest and commitment. But now my parents worry that I might get overwhelmed, and they encourage me to slow down. For my first college course, they forced me to enroll in baby math (aka algebra I) because they wanted me to develop soft skills and get used to being in a college setting. It was so boring that I spent a lot of time playing video games during class. Then I convinced my parents to let me take an assessment test so that I could take harder classes. My college assessment test showed that I was ready for calculus – that’s four levels above baby math! I think my parents are starting to believe that I actually do know what I’m doing. 

Being an extrovert has helped me make a lot of friends in college – they even ask me to tutor them.

So far, the content of the college classes has not really been a challenge since I process information easily. I don’t study much at all. I feel that my professors and classmates respect my abilities. But I have other types of challenges as a college student. Because of the asynchronous development, I do not have good time-management skills or strong note-taking skills, and sometimes I have trouble reading my own handwriting! My parents help me by typing out study notes from my textbooks, even though they might not understand the content.

Also, I do whine a lot over homework because it is boring and long. I think this worries my parents because they keep reminding me that work ethic and ethos are more important than IQ. They were concerned when I spent only one hour to study all 14 chapters for my chemistry final, but then I got a 101 percent. Remember their obsession with the marshmallow test? I hope to transfer to MIT in two to three years. Hopefully, MIT will disagree with my parents’ definition of work ethic.

My biggest challenge during class (and during this essay) is to train my brain to stay focused and keep from wandering off to random thoughts. At any time, I could be thinking about anything from the Yemen famine to how do get out of piano practice that day.

My parents always had an open and transparent philosophy with me. That means our family does not have any questions that are off-limits, though I do sometimes get low-quality answers on controversial subjects. I think they regret their open philosophy after being forced to explain to me some words and concepts from the Game of Thrones books. I have a provocative personality. So my parents “remind me” (more like, threaten me) that I have to respect the boundaries other parents might have and I should not share controversial knowledge with my friends.

I am excited that I will be interning next summer in the artificial intelligence division of one of the largest technology companies in the world. I used my charm offensive in the interview! My boss is a famous female scientist who worked with Stephen Hawking. For my fourth-grade spring research paper, my Helios teachers will allow me to choose a topic that is related to my internship. I have a big support system of parents, relatives, family friends, mentors, teachers and doctors who are happy to help me. But I also know that I am very lucky to have this kind of community because most kids with “special needs” have to struggle to find resources. Well, I wrote a lot, so thanks for reading!

You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, but please remember to be nice!

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