Mason’s 14-year-old: Youngest high school grad in the nation successfully juggles class and extracurriculars

by   Posted on May 3rd, 2010 in Uncategorized

By Emily Sharrer, Editor-in-Chief

For most 14-year-old girls, finishing the eighth grade and finding a boyfriend are top priorities. Even notions of a high school prom and getting into college are still distant dreams. But George Mason University freshman Paige Epler, the youngest high school graduate in the nation, is not most 14-year-old girls. In fact, she doesn’t even like the Jonas Brothers.

“I like Vivaldi,” said Epler, who has been featured on major news programs to tell her unique story — that of a child genius who attends George Mason University, has broken a world record for successfully completing 200 laps on the monkey bars in less than 40 minutes and created a program on sharks endorsed by the Smithsonian — all before she even has her learner’s permit.

Epler, who was homeschooled, graduated high school and attended her first high school prom at just 12, is an ambitious tween, who bides her time taking classes at Mason, practicing her violin and participating in a local Pokemon league.

But for Epler, it’s all in a day’s work.

“I still have time to play with my friends. I can balance my social life with my academic one. The best part is I’m going to graduate early from college so I have all this time to figure out what I want to do with my life,” said Epler.

Pam Epler, Paige’s mother says that at an early age it was evident Paige was gifted. At just 1 ½ years old, Paige was able to sing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” and read spice labels.

“It was our first baby, we didn’t really know that it was that special…and I knew that reading spice labels was really something, so I said well let’s grab the camera for this one, but it wasn’t really until later on when she was really around a lot of little ones that I noticed a vast difference,” says Epler.

At 4 she was reading on at least an eighth-grade level, but even now, the Eplers don’t let Paige’s accelerated intelligence level or her long list of accomplishments go to her head.

“I try really hard to stay away from numbers and tests like that because I will always think that every person has a potential and that they are much more than a number,” said Pam Epler.

“That doesn’t mean you’re any better or any worse than anyone else,” adds Paige, who was just 13 when she started classes at Mason last semester. “It just means you might have a higher potential, but whether you reach that potential, whether you can get there, that’s what matters — not how far you can go, but how far you do go.”

Although the 14-year-old is the youngest student on campus, Paige doesn’t regret her decision to push ahead with her schooling — even though that does mean she’s surrounded at school by people 5-10 years her senior.

“I didn’t see any sense in waiting until I was much older,” says Paige. “I wanted to reach my full potential at my own pace and if my own pace is a lot faster than somebody else’s then that’s fine.”

Epler, a high school teacher, sometimes enrolls in some of the same classes as her daughter to get work done towards her recertification, and students are often confused when they see the pair in class.

“Some people think that mom is the student,” says Paige. “It’s funny seeing their reactions.”

“When we initially went to this particular class people thought I was there to help her,” said Pam. “It didn’t take them long to figure out who was helping who.”

Paige hasn’t completely outgrown her entire adolescent phase, however.

“Sometimes I kind of get fed up with my parents,” says Paige, who dreams of moving into an apartment in Georgetown with her best friend Maddie. “One minute I’ll be like, ‘I never wanna move,’ the next minute I’m like ‘I wanna move as soon as I’m old enough, this house is boring.’”

One of the most recent projects Paige has taken on is a campaign called “Marketing Math and Science for Girls.” With support from the Women and Genders Department, Paige is reaching out to major companies like Toys R Us and Disney and encouraging them to change gender-biased marketing, so that young girls are shown in advertisements playing with math, science and adventure toys and are encouraged to pursue their interests in math and science.

“In the catalogs you see boys playing with all the science and sports toys and the girls are playing with hearts and flowers and Barbies and cooking stuff,” said Paige. “I’m actually really serious about this, I’m not just doing research and writing a paper…I’m getting out there, I’m actually working with these companies and I’ve gotten responses.”

In mid-April, Paige was featured on the Fox 5 Morning Show in a live interview to talk about the new campaign.

On Wednesday, Paige will give a PowerPoint presentation about the campaign in Innovation Hall room 131 at 1:30 p.m. The presentation is free and open to all students.

“She is such an outstanding and dedicated young lady,” said University Spokeman Dan Walsch. “We are glad and proud to have her as part of our community.”

Whether studying, hanging out with friends or dreaming up what might be a successful future, Paige remains down-to-earth and unfazed by her ability to accomplish so many feats in so little time, including being one of, if not the smartest 14-year-old in the country.

“I know it’s something extraordinary, but it seems kind of ordinary for me. I’m used to it.”



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