It’s graduation season and that means young boys and girls across the CSRA get to turn those tassels and walk into a new season of life. But for one local graduate, the milestone came a little sooner than it does for most.
“I’ve probably read every book in this library,” Charleston Lee told us while sitting inside of C.H. Terrell Academy’s library.
Lee started school at the age of three.
“Around fourth or fifth grade, I actually started trying to get ahead,” she recalled.
Lee will graduate in June as C.H. Terrell Academy’s Class of 2019 Valedictorian. While most students who hold that title are around 18, Lee is just 14. She let us in on why she chose to work a little faster than most.
“I thought school was boring and I really wanted to get out of school, like go as fast as I could, but I was keeping a pace because I am a child,” she explained.
Rebecca Terrell Dent, C.H. Terrell Academy Founder, sat down with us too and discussed Lee’s academic success.
“Every tiger is different,” Terrell Dent said of the school’s mascot. “After I did my research, I realized that no tiger’s stripes are the same. When they are born, each one of them are different. At C.H. Terrell Academy that’s the way these kids are.”
Terrell Dent said she wasn’t thrilled about Lee’s request to skip grades at first, but decided to support her student and granddaughter in becoming just like a man she admired for his early high school exodus, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
She added, “I would give her another science class or something because she was bored. She would still Ace that and be done in so many weeks. I said ‘Oh My Gosh.’ I would continue giving her things and then I knew it was time to test.”
Those tests took Lee right past seventh and eight grades and straight into high school at 12-years-old.
She added learning time management was the biggest struggle.
“I believe I made my first B in high school. That kind of hurt my feelings,” she said. “So, I had to figure out a way to get back on track and then, of course, extra-curricular activities and I started my dual enrollment at Paine taking Social Statistics.”
You heard her correctly.
Lee enrolled into Paine College at 12.
Now a rising Junior, she’s a math major, focusing on computer science. And the only challenge she said she faced was staying organized between the two schools. Terrell Academy is a year-round school.
Her secret, she added, is looking at the course work before class starts.
Here’s her advice:
“Just go to class. Do your work. I think you’ll be ok.”
She’s done dance team and the debutante club, but mostly it’s school. Lee plans to have her Bachelor’s degree by 16, then her Master’s degree in Computer Science followed by her Doctorate in Software Engineering. If all goes well, she will enter the workforce at 19.
Only time will tell.
But let’s go back to the beginning. Lee did share that of all the books in the library she’s read, she has a favorite.
“Esperanza. That was my favorite book.”
Lee turns 15 in December. And though she has not been to prom or had her first kiss, she plans on getting her permit to drive.
Charleston Lee graduates from Terrell Academy as Valedictorian on June 14.
Photojournalist: Mark Gaskins