A teenager is starting classes at George Washington University this fall as a college freshman and just about everyone cannot believe their eyes.
“My topic is Africa and the African diaspora,” said Curtis Lawrence III holding a yellow highlighter at the ready as he began his homework.
He likes GW so far, he said. Though he is a bit smaller than the rest of his classmates. Unlike most of them, he has braces. And there’s a good reason for that — Lawrence is only 14.
“Like when I’m in a class, I think of myself as a student — I’m either a high school student or a college student. And then I look in the mirror and I’m like, ‘Oh, I look this young,’ and I keep forgetting that,” he said.
Though he cannot declare a major yet, Curtis knows he’ll choose biology and computer science. He wants to be a paleontologist.
“He’s loved dinosaurs and paleontology literally since he was one. And some people think, ‘Oh, your kid is going to grow out of that.’ But you foster that love of whatever it is,” said his mother Malene Lawrence.
“So we’d keep dinosaur books. Like, we kept tons of nonfiction books in the car and he would be pronouncing the names of dinosaurs and I was like, ‘How does this kid know this?'”
Both Curtis’ parents are educators and wanted their children to grow up to become not only voracious learners but good students who other teachers wanted in their class. That said, Lawrence said she is blessed to have two gifted sons.
“I’m taking Calculus I, Astronomy, University writing, and African History,” Curtis said. He wanted to take a larger course load but his adviser cautioned against taking on too much in his first semester.
However they are not Curtis’ first college classes. He completed that when he was in eighth grade. He took the SATs when he was 10 years old. He also studied abroad in China, where he stayed with a Chinese family and improved his Mandarin.
“He was very methodical about planning what classes he would take. Even taking Mandarin. The average kid would say I’ll take Spanish or French. But he was very specific in wanting to take Mandarin because in speaking with paleontology mentors, they said the one language you should take is Mandarin. So he’s wanted to take it since he was in the second grade,” Lawrence said of her son.
It’s why Curtis continues to take Mandarin for fun at his high school, the School without Walls. His mother explained that Curtis has all but completed the required classes to graduate from high school, aside from some physical education classes.
So while he is technically a junior in high school with only a few credits left to graduate, he was eligible to enroll in a special program between his high school and GW. He is, however, the youngest student at School without Walls to enroll in GW as a freshman.
So far, Curtis said he’s only gotten lost once in the first two weeks of college and his classmates are taking his presence in stride.
“In University writing class, it took a while for everyone to introduce themselves. And so I recently introduced myself. But up until that point, everyone was really confused about how I was there. And so after that, they were like, ‘Oh that’s really cool.’ And someone else said, ‘You’re putting us to shame.'”