Whiz Kid, 13, To Graduate College

Child genius Gregory Robert Smith, 13, poses in a labratory at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., April 7, 2003. Smith will receive his bachelor's degree in mathematics on May 31 from the private Methodist school 15 miles north of Richmond. Smith, who was elected Phi Beta Kappa, is graduating cum laude.
He was solving math problems at 14 months, reading and correcting adults' grammar by 2 — the same age he decided to become a vegetarian. He was explaining photosynthesis to kindergarten classmates at 5.

He breezed through 10 grades of school in three years, graduated with honors from high school at 9, founded an international youth advocacy organization, met with prime ministers and presidents, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Twice.

Now, 13-year-old Gregory Robert Smith is about to add another line to his resume: College graduate.

Greg will receive his bachelor's degree in mathematics May 31 from Randolph-Macon College, a private Methodist school 15 miles north of Richmond. Greg, who was elected Phi Beta Kappa, is graduating cum laude.

He has not yet said where he will attend graduate school. He plans to earn PhDs in math, aerospace engineering, political science and biomedical engineering, and pursue multiple careers while continuing to champion nonviolence and children's rights.

Among his goals is to become president of the United States.

"It would give me the opportunity to help so many people," Greg said in an interview in the campus office where Janet Smith spends her days managing her son's always-packed daily schedule.

Greg's arrival at Randolph-Macon in September 1999 drew so much attention that he had to schedule two news conferences — one before classes and one at the end of the day. School officials expect a similar crush on graduation day.

Since that first day of college, Greg has shot up 13 inches — "5 feet 7," he says proudly — but his maturity and personal growth are much harder to quantify, said his mentor, psychology professor Michael Wessells.

"I don't have a measuring stick for it," Wessells said. "He has come much farther in three years than anyone I've ever known."

Greg already was well ahead of his classmates intellectually when he arrived, Wessells said. But the cheerful lad with the distinctive bowl-shaped mop of golden hair lacked life experience and cultural understanding.

That is where he has made the greatest strides, Wessells said.

"He has boundless curiosity, a tremendous sense of values around peace and social justice, and great motivation. His is a mind that should not be straitjacketed."

Greg could have entered a larger and more well-known college. But Janet and Bob Smith liked the small classes at the 1,100-student school and what seemed a safe environment for their son, who received his first threatening note — likely from a jealous classmate — when he was 8. An adult is always by his side, often a campus security officer.

Janet Smith said concerns that her son has missed out on his childhood are misplaced. Greg has charted a course that makes him happy, and that includes not only advanced learning but also playing sports with children his own age.

"I feel I've lived the life of a normal child," Greg said. "I've just been given so many incredible opportunities."

Among those opportunities was attending Randolph-Macon on full scholarship. However, much of his energy has been spent working with the Richmond-based Christian Children's Fund and traveling as the founder of International Youth Advocates, which champions nonviolence and human rights.

He visited Kenya, where he was a guest at the signing of a peace treaty between warring tribes, and witnessed the despair of crack-addicted children in the slums of Sao Paulo, Brazil. He has met with Mikhail Gorbachev, Jordan's Queen Noor and Nobel peace laureates.

"He's traveling in circles very few humans ever attain, let alone 13-year-olds," Wessells said.

Greg earns money on the speaking circuit to support his philanthropic work. He writes his own speeches, which he delivers with the polish of a veteran campaigner.

"When I was very young," Greg says in one videotaped speech, drawing laughter from the crowd of about 11,000. He waits for silence and begins again: "When I was very young and witnessed the video accounts of children suffering from disease or malnutrition, separated from their families or subjected to violence, I knew I had to act. I was just 7 years old then, but I was certain that there must be a way that I could make a difference."

Greg continues to advocate for children and peace, which he said go hand-in-hand.

"The first step to peace is education. That's one reason I'm working so hard," Greg said.

Greg's lessons outside the classroom included what Wessells called "an encounter with the school of hard knocks" at the United Nations' first children's summit last May. He was a delegate to the fractious meeting, which ended with approval of a compromise children's rights document that pleased virtually no one. "I saw firsthand how countries that didn't want to deal with these issues sabotaged the document," he said.

"He was quite upset by the level of political rhetoric and all the self-serving positions that were taken," Wessells said. "It was a bitter pill for him, but that's part of growing up. He didn't lose his idealism, but tempered it with a better sense of reality."