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When the 508 Southern students walk across the graduation stage Friday, ready to start new chapters in their lives, among them will be a young man hailed by the school as academic prodigy.
Polite Stewart Jr., a physics major, began his university career at age 14.
When he receives his diploma during Southern’s fall commencement, he will be the youngest graduate in Southern’s history.
Stewart, 18, entered Southern four years ago to much fanfare. He was under a microscope as his classmates learned of the student on campus who was too young to drive or see an R rated movie alone.
Stewart, who lived off campus during his four years at Southern, said he adjusted fairly easily. “The attention I got died down pretty quickly,” he said.
He traces his love for academics to the dinosaur books his father bought him as a young child. Later, as a toddler, Stewart said he began watching scientific documentaries where his interest in herpetology, entomology and paleontology grew. “I was pretty much interested in all the sciences,” he said.
Now, barely an adult, Stewart has set his sights on a career in biological and physical engineering. He spent last summer doing research at North Carolina State University, where he worked on developing self-cleaning, anti-glare glass coated with anti-reflective material and designed to repel oils and water.
After continuing his research in a post-grad program next summer, Stewart said he will start graduate school one of a number of colleges that have shown interest.
His mother, Ava Stewart, isn’t surprised by her son’s success.
“His father and I could tell early on that he wanted information. There was an intensity in his focus. He started reading when he was three,” she said.
Ava and Polite Stewart Sr. began homeschooling their son shortly after he left daycare, she said. The couple enrolled him in different programs over the years to advance his learning and to let him be around other kids, she added.
“He was doing ninth-grade work at 10 years old; he took college credits at 12,” she said. “I didn’t have any reservations when he started college. We had to let him go, we would’ve been holding him back.
Southern physics professor Diola Bagayoko has mentored Stewart since he was around 12 years old watching him progress academically and socially over the last six years. He said Stewart is destined for great things.
“He is a very brilliant young man lucky to have had highly responsible parents,” Bagayoko said. “Because of his capability and his focus, I believe he’s set to do great things in science, technology and engineering.”
Posted By: Reginald Culpepper
Thursday, December 13th 2012 at 2:46PM