The Tenderest Trojan

 


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The Tenderest Trojan: 14-year old student Natasha Lewis


14-year old student Natasha Lewis
Meet Natashia Lewis. A sophomore double-majoring in biology and chemistry: courageous, skillful, ambitious, she exhibits all the Trojan virtues.
Yadda, yadda. So what makes Lewis so special?
Oh, yeah. She’s only 14 years old – the youngest USC student on record.

At a time when others her age are making the dubious acquaintance of the Pythagorean theorem, Lewis is cozying up to quantum mechanics and chaos theory. As her peers-in-years stand poised at the threshold of the brave new world of high school, Lewis stands shoulder-to-shoulder in lectures, labs, discussions and exams with classmates old enough to vote, drink and go to war.
But she isn’t the least bit intimidated. This is a girl who, at the age of 12, scored 1300 on her SATs. It’s been obvious for years that she’s extraordinary.
“Everybody was pretty proud when I entered college, but it really wasn’t that much of a shock,” she says. “It was already expected.”
Lewis’ academic gift was evident from the age of 2, when she could already recognize words and begin to spell. By 3, the toddler was reading at the second- or third-grade level. Enrolled in a highly gifted program at Walter Reed Junior High School in Studio City, Calif., Lewis sped through the curriculum. By age 11, she’d
completed algebra. A year later, she had nailed trigonometry, pre-calculus, geometry and physics.
Seeing that secondary school held little challenge for her daughter, Lewis’ mom, Vivian, successfully lobbied officials in Sacramento to grant the precocious eighth-grader a high school diploma and let her go straight to college.

Lewis had set her sights on USC. She had the grades, the scores and the diploma to get in. But she still needed to prove she had the maturity. “Before I would be allowed to enter USC, officials wanted me to do a year at another university to see how the socialization issues would go,” she says.
So last year she entered Cal State Los Angeles as a freshman, and ended up on the National Dean’s List, an honor reserved for the top half percent of the nation’s college students.
Even then, Lewis recalls, “there was still a lot of persuading I had to do.” But mother and daughter prevailed, and this fall Lewis got the green light to enter USC – with some provisos. University officials, for example, wouldn’t permit the 14-year-old sophomore to live on campus. Too young to drive, Lewis rides to school with her mother (or one of her aunts) from the family’s San Fernando Valley home. While Lewis attends classes, her mother (a substitute teacher) whiles away the time at the library, in one of Exposition Park’s museums or at a lecture on campus.
As for the wisdom-seeking wunderkind herself, she isn’t wasting any time. A full-time undergraduate, she plans to ultimately earn M.D. and Ph.D. degrees with the goal of becoming a medical research scientist.

Contrary to stereotypes
about maladjusted prodigies, Lewis has had little difficulty fitting in socially as well as academically.
“Everybody treats me as any other student,” she says. “I have received a warm reception from everyone.”
Though life is more complicated for Lewis than for most 14-year-olds, she makes time to pursue normal youthful interests: she swims, plays the piano and violin, watches TV and likes to go to movies.
“It’s not like studying is all I do,” she says. “Nobody has forced me to do things I don’t want to do. I’m always my own age. I’m an average 14-year-old.”

Diane Krieger


Photo by Debra DiPaolo

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