Jewish World Review
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) NORFOLK, Va. - Before he builds space stations, wins the Nobel Peace Prize and calls the White House home, here are a few facts about 13-year-old Gregory R. Smith:
He loves a good cartoon, riding his bike and playing basketball. He's a bit like any kid.
Except that Greg's IQ is so high it can't be quantified. He travels the globe promoting non-violence. And he's graduating from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland this month, cum laude in math.
Trumpets are sounding worldwide. Television crews from more than a dozen countries on four continents have descended on this tiny Methodist college to interview Greg. He's appeared on Oprah, Letterman, "60 Minutes" and the cover of The London Times Magazine. Greg is a lanky youth with floppy blond hair, size 11 Nikes and a heavy sense of responsibility.
"I believe I was given a special gift from God and I don't know why," he said in a still-changing voice. "I want to use this gift to help all mankind and bring lasting world peace."
Greg dreams of mining asteroids, curing cancer, eradicating hunger and becoming president.
But first, he must learn. Greg plans to earn four doctorates by age 30. He'll start work toward his first, in math, this summer. He's been awarded a $300,000 scholarship for his next six years of studies. Greg won't discuss which university he'll attend until after his graduation this Saturday from Randolph-Macon.
Later on, Greg plans to add doctorates in biomedical research, aeronautical engineering and political science.
Fellow seniors at Randolph-Macon have little doubt about Greg's future. They voted him most likely to succeed.
"He'd make a great president," said Sarah E. Crider, his lab partner in cellular biology. "He's so gifted and has such diverse knowledge and is able to balance so many difficult things."
His professors add a grain of caution.
"Genius, to me, means bringing creativity and originality to your field," said Adrian C. Rice, an assistant professor of math who taught Greg in several classes. "Greg hasn't had a chance to do that yet. He's been learning on the undergraduate level.
"All we can say right now is that Greg is very, very good at being a student and taking exams."
Not that Greg aced every course. He got an occasional B, sometimes because he enrolled in advanced courses without taking prerequisites, and sometimes because his extensive travels caused him to miss classes.
Greg is seeking a voice in world affairs. He has started International Youth Advocates, an organization espousing children's rights. He's raising money to build a school in Rwanda, bring computers and educational supplies to Kenya and cleanse drinking water in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
"I'm focusing on children because they're the future," he said. "They're the ones who have not been corrupted by society. They're the ones who, as Rousseau says, still have pure minds."
Among Greg's close mentors are two Nobel Peace Prize winners: Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Betty Williams of Ireland. He's met privately with Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Greg has an urgent game plan and the media plays a vital role. "I want to use my age to my advantage while I can and while there's so much attention being given to me while I'm going to college. I know if I work as hard as I can to build my base now, it will make my work in the future easier."
It may also make Greg wealthy. He has a busy professional speaking schedule and gets paid as much as $10,000 an appearance. His mother, Janet, handles the arrangements and briefs the press on Greg's "message." She makes it clear, however, that she's not the force pushing her son.
"The drive comes entirely from Greg," she said.
In interviews, Greg is unfailingly polite, confident and unassuming. He smiles, talks softly and gestures constantly. He's a bit rehearsed. Verbatim versions of his answers often can be found on his Web site - www.gregoryrsmith.com - where he files copies of his speeches.
Greg reveals little about his inner thoughts. He declines to take sides in political controversies, saying he wants to work with everyone. While proud of his intellect, he acknowledges it can be a burden.
"Sometimes it feels enclosing," he said. "But I've gotten used to keeping ideas to myself and just pondering them."
What goes on in the mind of an only child who could read at 2 and graduated high school at 9? A clue lies in "My Secret Place," a poem Greg wrote when he was 8:
A refreshing sight, obscured by light.
Trees swirled, in this lonely part of the world.
Quiet moments to peacefully reflect
On future triumphs of earned respect.
Soaring with imagination,
In my world of creation.
With all the wonders innocent and pure,
Ideas seem endless and secure.
Just nature and I and dreams galore,
Are only permitted through this door.
A peek in the keyhole reveals a mind filled with numbers and equations. Math is Greg's first love. "It's the language of all science," he said.
One of his highlights at Randolph-Macon was the day he thought he disproved the ratio test, a cornerstone of higher math. It took his startled professor several hours to spot the flaw in Greg's work.
Greg's voice swells with excitement as he explains his near triumph. But the story gets lost in a maze of mathematical concepts called supremums, convergence tests and real analysis. Greg realizes the futility of going on.
"Suffice to say, I came this close," he said, narrowing his thumb and forefinger an atom apart. "I'm not sure of the complete ramifications, but without the ratio test and the end root test you wouldn't be able to prove functions test and you wouldn't have functions. It would have set math back hundreds of years."
Greg has an office at Randolph-Macon, which, in addition to a full scholarship, was part of the deal the school offered to land him when he was 10. A blackboard just inside the door records his musings. One day, it's covered with equations. The next, it has drawings of DNA strands. Another time, it is filled with a perspective sketch of a medieval village.
He wants to make the world more logical. "The resources exist if we could just learn to use them."
Greg, a vegetarian, said starvation would disappear if people would limit meat consumption to once a week. "If we took the grasslands that are needed to raise cattle and grew crops on them, we could feed the world tenfold."
He believes natural resources could be replenished by mining asteroids. He's trying to develop a prototype of a solar-powered medical station that could be taken into the hinterlands of poor nations lacking electricity.
Greg is a subtle communicator. For example, he wants people to know he hasn't missed out on childhood. If he senses skepticism, Greg gradually may respond by feigning basketball shots, humming or kicking his legs.
He tries to fit in. When a professor asks the class a question, he counts in his head to 25 before raising his hand.
"It's something he's done since he entered elementary school," his mother said. "Greg wants to give all of his classmates a chance to participate."
Some suggest that Greg may be a little too serious - a little too self-driven - for a 13-year-old. "I think FUN is something you need to think about," Jane Goodall, the famed primatologist, wrote to Greg several years ago after meeting him in New York.
Greg said he's having a ball.
"I love learning. I've always loved learning. I will always continue to love learning. It's a tremendous amount of fun."
His mother wonders why some people doubt that. "Society does a tremendous disservice to each generation by immediately assuming that academics and learning can't be fun. Sometimes, we steer children away from learning by doing that."
There was never a chance of steering Greg away. He could recite the alphabet at 1. He turned to vegetarianism at 2 after studying dinosaurs and realizing that humans, like herbivores, had flat teeth. At 4, he was doing basic algebra and reading Jules Verne. He deduced the truth about Santa Claus on a library visit that year when it dawned on him that all the books about St. Nick were filed as fiction.
His parents were as amazed as anyone. Both are well educated but say there's no history of genius in their families. They met in the early 1970s at the University of Maryland, where Bob Smith was an all-conference football safety and Janet was a cheerleader.
Bob has a master's in microbiology and inspects laboratories for security. Janet has a bachelor's in communications and owned a dance studio until she quit to tend to Greg's special needs.
Greg's hunger for knowledge has taken his family on an odyssey through three states. The Smiths say Greg intellectually outgrew them when he was 5, the same year he entered kindergarten in Lancaster County, Pa. He was quickly bored and within a few months, promoted to first grade. That barely helped.
He started the next year in second grade and everything fell apart. Greg was frustrated, but the school system had a policy against promoting children ahead of their class more than once every three years. The best anyone could do was hand Greg fifth-grade books and let him study in the hall.
Greg felt ostracized. His parents wanted him to be proud of his intellect. So the Smiths launched a nationwide search for a school system that would let Greg advance at his own pace.
In 1996, they moved to Clay County, Fla., just outside Jacksonville. That fall, Greg entered second grade in what would be his parents' last stab at keeping him with his age group. The next fall, he began high school. Twenty-two months later, at age 9, he became what is believed to be the youngest high school graduate in Florida's history. TV cameras captured him losing a baby tooth as he stepped on stage for his diploma.
The Smiths moved to Virginia so Greg could go to college. They wanted a small setting for him. Randolph-Macon, with about 1,100 students, promised he would have lots of one-on-one dealings with professors.
Greg arrived as the little man on campus in 1999, standing 4 foot 6 and barely strong enough to carry his books. He's grown 14 inches since then. But he still stands out on campus, often because of the reporters and camera crews documenting his life.
He's also tailed by a security guard. Being Greg can be creepy. He's received death threats. Strange men have lurked outside his classrooms, urging him to come talk. Cults have asked Greg to teach them how to communicate with extraterrestrials.
Greg calls them bullies. "I can't let them stop me."
His mom drives him to college each day and stays in his office - often brokering interview requests, often meeting up with him to make sure he's safe.
Greg is all business on campus. His study habits are meticulous. He likes to get to classes early and sit in the center of the first row.
He has a cordial but somewhat distant relationship with classmates. During a recent honors reception Greg stood in a corner, more comfortable chatting with professors than students.
His relationships with fellow 13-year-olds pretty much is limited to playing in weekend sports leagues, his mother said. Greg hasn't started dating, although he gets loads of letters from parents wanting him to meet their daughters.
The Smiths are sensitive to any implication that they let their son advance too fast. "There was no alternative for Greg," Janet Smith said. "There's no prototype to follow for someone of Greg's potential and ability.
"People keep asking, `Has he missed out on something.' I say no. He's had opportunities most people dream about. He's traveled the world. He wakes up every morning happy. During the entire time he's been in college, there's never been a day where he hasn't wanted to go to classes."
The Smiths prefer to look ahead. Should Greg choose an out-of-state graduate school, the family will move for the third time in six years.
On his office door, Greg has posted a hand-scrawled sign with the heading "Days Until Graduation." He began writing and X-ing numbers out at 94. This day, he's down to six.
As usual, Greg can't wait.
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