PHOENIX — A 15-year-old graduated this weekend from community college here with four associate degrees.
Alexander "AJ" Gilman of Paradise Valley, Ariz., started classes at Paradise Valley Community College when he was 13 years old.
"I would say I'm lucky," AJ said. "I've gotten a lot of opportunities, and a lot of people helped me, and I met a lot of amazing people."
AJ, also a student at Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center charter school, also became the speaker at the two-year college's commencement Friday; 255 students graduated.
When AJ stepped onto the community campus for the first time in 2012 as part of Maricopa County's early college program, he met math professor Tony Craig, who sized him up. The veteran instructor asked whether AJ 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," AJ said.
Craig, an educator for 33 years, said that when AJ, his mother and the charter school's principal came to his office, he worried how the young teen 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 AJ into college classes, saying the youth "is proof you can set out to do something and mature quickly."
AJ 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, AJ 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.