A science wunderkind has wowed his professors and classmates by graduating from college at the age of 13. Elliott Tanner recently graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in physics, specializing in math.
“I feel ecstatic,” Elliott, a Minnesota resident, told WordsSideKick.com. “It’s a truly surreal experience.”
Although incredible, this achievement does not make Elliott the youngest college graduate in US history. That title belongs to Michael Kearney, who graduated from the University of South Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 1992 at the age of 10, according to the BBC.
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Elliott’s parents are “incredibly proud” of the hard work and dedication he put into earning his degree at such a young age and are pleased that he has become an inspiration to so many. “While she has an amazing ability to learn, she is also a kind and funny human being,” Michelle Tanner, Elliott’s mother, told Live Science. “He inspires us to be better people every day.”
Elliott plans to pursue a Ph.D. if her parents can raise the necessary funds. In the future, Elliott aspires to be a professor at the University of Minnesota and become an expert in theoretical high-energy physics, the study of the most elemental building blocks of matter and the fundamental forces between them. “I can’t wait to start,” he said.
Age is just a number
Elliott’s parents first realized their son was gifted before he started school; she showed remarkable linguistic and mathematical abilities from the age of 3. When he was 5 years old, Elliott enrolled in his local kindergarten, but was quickly pulled out of school when it became clear that a traditional education experience would not suit him.
“I was talking about particle accelerators when I was 5, when other kids were pretending to be Superman on the playground,” Michelle said.
Elliott was then homeschooled by his parents, who supported his inquisitive nature and appetite for knowledge on their own. The pair tried to limit Elliott to his classmates’ curriculum, but despite his best efforts, he progressed at an astonishing rate.
“Elliott ended up learning and consuming information faster than we could provide it,” Tanner said. “Her room of hers was full of textbooks that she read right away.” She often chose to spend her birthday money on books instead of toys or games, she added.
By age 9, Elliott had already completed most of the normal high school curriculum, and her parents were struggling to keep up with her. So they enrolled him in his local community college. “As parents, we were terrified,” Tanner said. “But he excelled, and the school administration and other students took him under their wing.”
It was in community college that Elliott really forged his passion for physics. “For a long time, I wanted to be a mathematician,” Elliott said. “Then I was exposed to a physics class that really intrigued me and inspired me to learn more about the secrets of the world.”
A unique university experience
When he was 11 years old, Elliott transferred to the University of Minnesota to begin studying physics and mathematics. The ease with which Elliott made the transition to college life surprised his professors and significantly older classmates.
“Sometimes there is a brief period of confusion as to why I am there [in class]but that wears off quickly,” Elliott said. Though her college experience is a little different than her classmates, Elliott still hangs out with her peers in the student lounge, discussing homework, debating physics topics or watching movies. .
“Being exposed to people as passionate about physics as he is has been incredibly rewarding for him,” Tanner said. “It satisfies his mind to be able to dive deep with others at his level and learn from incredible scientists.”
Elliott has also had to deal with the media coverage that comes with being a prodigy. He is often compared to Sheldon Cooper, the main character of “The Big Bang Theory” spin-off series “Young Sheldon,” and said that he even befriended Iain Armitage, the actor who plays Young Sheldon.
“Young Sheldon has shown some of the difficulties I’ve faced,” Elliott said. “And I appreciate seeing other talented people on the shows.”
He’s still a normal kid
One of the biggest challenges Elliott and her family have faced is criticism, especially online, from people who don’t understand her situation and make snap judgments about what her life should be like.
“People seem to have a preconceived notion that Elliott’s childhood was stolen,” Tanner said. “People also assume that she must lack social skills.” But this couldn’t be “further from the truth,” she added.
However, Elliott has always enjoyed interacting with children her age, Tanner said. She loves playing with other kids in the neighborhood, doing things like building cardboard armor, playing board games, visiting amusement parks, and playing “Dungeons and Dragons.” And like the other kids, Elliott goes trick-or-treating on Halloween, but with a decidedly academic twist: she dresses up as Albert Einstein or theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, his favorite scientist.
Elliott has been accepted into the University of Minnesota Ph.D. program in physics and is due to start his Ph.D. in the next academic year. Unfortunately, his acceptance into the program has not come with the financial support that students would normally receive.
Typically, the university offers students a package that includes a stipend (basic salary), health insurance, and a tuition waiver. In this case, however, the physics department chose not to because they have apprehensions about giving Elliott teaching responsibilities, which is a big part of the show. The decision came as a surprise to Elliott’s parents, who had relied on the grant to support Elliott’s education. They estimate that the entire doctoral program will cost around $90,000 to complete.
“We never imagined sending a 9-year-old to college, let alone a 13-year-old to graduate school, so we never had time to create a college fund,” Tanner said. The only option left was to start a GoFundMe campaign, she added.
Starting April 28 Elliott’s GoFundMe Page he’s raised over $28,000, which means he should at least be able to complete the first year. “We are so grateful that our friends, family, community and the general public have supported Elliott,” Tanner said. “He couldn’t continue his studies without the support.”
Originally published on Live Science.