News & Features » Miscellany

Part Two

Boy Wonder


In his short life, Greg's quest for knowledge has led his family on an odyssey through three states.

It began when Greg entered kindergarten in 1994 in Lancaster County, Pa.

The goal of the class was to have all students reciting the ABCs and counting to 20 by the end of the school year. Greg was instantly bored and frustrated, and asked his parents if he could do something else.

"The teachers tried to help," his mother recalls. "They would allow Greg to read to the class. But he could only read books that the children would enjoy, which were books he was reading when he was 1 or 2." By Christmas, he was promoted to first grade. That kept him challenged for two weeks.

Greg started second grade the next fall, but matters were quickly moving to a head. Even though his teacher professed Greg was smarter than she was, Lancaster County had a policy against promoting students ahead of their class more than once every three years. The best anyone could do was hand Greg fifth-grade books and let him study independently in the hall.

"We didn't want him to feel ostracized because of his intellect," his mother says. "We wanted him to be proud of it."

After launching a nationwide search for a school system that would allow Greg to advance at his own pace, the Smiths moved in the summer of 1996 to Clay County, Fla. — just outside of Jacksonville.

He began the year back in second grade in what would be his parents' last stab at keeping him with his age group. Within weeks, he was in fourth grade. By spring, his mother was chauffeuring him to a high school for morning math class, then to an elementary school for sixth-grade honors classes, then back to his neighborhood school for recess with his friends.

Greg skipped junior high school. Educators and his parents worried that students in those grades might not be kind to a much-younger classmate. They also thought Greg could handle a bigger academic challenge.

So at 8, Greg entered high school.

Twenty-two months later — just two days before his 10th birthday last June — Greg became what is believed to be the youngest person ever to graduate from high school in Florida. He finished with a 4.8 grade-point average. He was in contention to be valedictorian, but took himself out of the running so that the honor would go to someone who had been with the class all four years.

The next step was the most agonizing yet for Janet and Bob Smith. Greg wanted to go to college. The Smiths worried that Greg was moving too fast and would miss the joys of growing up. They tried to talk him out of college, pledging to seek other opportunities for their son even though they didn't know where to look.

Greg was insistent.

"Let me fly," he said.

"What else could we do?" Janet Smith asks, knowing that many will second-guess their decisions. "Do we make him stay at home all day and look at the Internet? We had no options.

"As parents, it's been extremely difficult for my husband and I to let him go at his own rate," she adds. "We agonize about it every day and we pray that when he's our age, he'll look back and say we did the only thing we could for him.

"We couldn't stop him from learning, especially when he's so driven."

They chose Randolph-Macon, which has 1,100 students, because the Smiths were looking for a small liberal-arts school where Greg could have lots of one-on-one contact with professors. It didn't hurt that the college was willing to give Greg a full four-year scholarship and a private office, and admit him in the honors programs. It also helped that Bob Smith's company was able to transfer his job to Virginia.

So the Smiths sold their house in Florida, where they had hoped to live for a long time, and moved to Keswick, Va. — just outside of Charlottesville. Janet Smith makes the two-hour round-trip commute to the college with her son every day.

While Greg attends classes, his mother stays in his office, often brokering media requests for interviews with her increasingly famous son.

She usually meets Greg between classes to exchange books. It's hard for a 75-pound freshman to make his way around campus when his knapsack is too heavy.

Judging by the thrill Greg expresses about his classes this year, and the reviews of professors and students, the decision to go to Randolph-Macon seems sound.

At 4-foot-6, he stands out from other students. There's a bounce in his step, and it's hard to keep up with him as he walks to class. Greg likes to get to his courses early and sit in the center of the front row.

[image-1](Bill Tiernan / Style Weekly)Sometimes the girls in his French IV class gently tease him. "Hey Greg, you got a girlfriend yet?" they ask.

"I'm only 10," he replies with a smile.

But mostly, Greg is all business. He doesn't linger after class to socialize. He studies by himself, usually three or four hours a day. In addition to French, Greg is taking Calculus II, modern English history, Italian Renaissance art and the history of Western philosophy.

To watch Greg learn is an experience. An animation comes over his face akin to the rapture of other children opening Christmas presents. When a question is thrown to the class, Greg almost always is the quickest to answer.

Greg won't divulge his grades this year, saying his emphasis is on learning. His professors, however, say he's doing exquisitely.

"I wish all my students were like Greg," says Amy DeGraff, his French professor. "He just throws himself into it with so much enthusiasm and passion and love of learning. He's not at all terrorized by self-consciousness like some of my students."

Bruce Torrence, Greg's calculus professor, agrees. "You don't get many college students who bounce up and down in their chair when they get a right answer," he says. "He does."

"Extremely quick and savvy with excellent social skills" is how Torrence describes Greg. "He's aware of the fact that it's impolite to dominate people around him. Sometimes he holds back to give other people a chance. I don't know how far he can go. He's obviously very talented. But he's still a boy."

French classmates say they are awed by Greg's intelligence. But they don't envy the little man on campus.

"He seems pretty cool and happy," says Cary Wood, a freshman. "But, I don't know, I just picture 10 as being a kid and running around. It seems like he's missing his childhood."

"I wouldn't want to be that smart," adds Jennifer Webb, also a freshman. "It seems like a huge responsibility. He gets so much attention and people expect him to do so much."

Greg says he usually enjoys the attention. He says he grants interviews because they help him spread his message for world peace.

For all his ebullience, there is also a private side to Greg. His words, at times, seem rehearsed. There is a limit to the probing he'll allow into his inner thoughts. And sometimes, when he wants to pour out, Greg acknowledges it's hard to find people on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it feels enclosing," he says. "But I've gotten used to keeping ideas to myself and just pondering them."

His parents are trying to keep a measure of normalcy in his life. They've stopped having Greg take IQ tests. They've firmly rejected medical requests to conduct CT scans of their son's brain.

"Greg is not a guinea pig," his mother says.

Instead, the focus has been on making sure Greg plays in weekend athletic leagues with children his age.

While Greg may not have much in common with boys his size, he shares with them a love of sports, particularly football. He'll be attending a sports camp with his peers this summer.

Janet Smith, a profoundly religious woman, often wonders about her son's gifts. "I think Greg is a messenger and that many people have sensed that," she says.

Janet Smith says she hasn't had to discipline her son in years. "He never went through the terrible twos or anything like that," she says.

Greg, who is licking a vanilla ice cream cone with colored sprinkles, can't resist a rejoinder.

He says: "I had my terrible twos in the womb."

Jump to Part 1, 2,

Add a comment