15-Year-Old Earns 4 Associate DegreesJuly 10, 2014
Not many colleges have a 15-year-old commencement speaker. But that's the student Paradise Valley Community College tapped for last week's graduation ceremonies.
Alexander "AJ" Gilman was 13 when he first enrolled in community-college classes. Now 15, he was among 1,400 students graduating from PVCC. He took home four associate degrees.
Gilman was in the early college program through the Maricopa County Community College District. He's also a student at the Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center, a charter school.
"I would say I'm lucky,' the Paradise Valley youth said. "I've gotten a lot of opportunities, and a lot of people helped me, and I met a lot of amazing people."
When he stepped onto the PVCC campus for the first time, in 2012, Gilman met math professor Tony Craig, who sized him up. The veteran instructor asked whether Gilman was serious about working hard.
At that moment, the teenager thought someone his age might have difficulty fitting in on campus.
"I came to the premature conclusion that since everyone was older than me, I wouldn't have any friends, no one would like me, and all I had going for me was that I'm a math guy," Gilman recalled.
Craig, an educator for 33 years, said that when Gilman, his mother and the charter school's principal came to his office, he worried how Gilman would relate to older students.
"Here is a little kid who will be sitting in a classroom with 20-something-year-old students," Craig said. "AJ didn't blink and told me, 'I won't let you down.' ''
Today, Craig believes he made the right decision in allowing Gilman into college classes, saying the youth "is proof you can set out to do something and mature quickly."
Gilman joined a number of clubs and the campus' student council, where he served as treasurer. He also served as the college's Gaming Club treasurer and is a member of the National Society of High School Scholars and the National Honor Society. He earned a national award for academic excellence and has tutored high-school and college students in math.
After two years of study, Gilman earned associate degrees in business administration, science (with an emphasis in mathematics), arts and general studies. He has been accepted to Arizona State University's Barrett, the Honors College and the W.P. Carey School of Business Leaders Academy. In August, he will start ASU classes as a junior, with plans to double-major in business legal studies and finance.
Despite his many academic achievements, Gilman insists he is not a nerd.
"I do not watch back-to-back episodes of 'Star Trek' or 'The Big Bang Theory' and do not scream, 'Epic fail!' when someone drops a piece of pizza on their white shirt," he said. "That's my story, and I'm sticking to it."
The young scholar is not finished with graduations yet. On Thursday, he is scheduled to receive another certificate — his high-school diploma from the Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center.