Being accepted to the University of Connecticut at only 13 years old has put Autum Ashante in a media spotlight, and not for the first time. But to the precocious Bronx, N.Y., resident, it’s merely the next step in a remarkable childhood in which she was reading at 2 years old, writing at 3, and publicly performing poetry readings shortly thereafter.
She’s gone everywhere from the White House to the U.N., and has been a commencement speaker at several local high schools and colleges. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the home-schooled girl is taking the prospect of college at 13 firmly in stride.
“Of course, why not?’’ she told TODAY.com. “There’s nothing wrong with it. If you are able to be academically ready for something, I might as well try it.’’
The question is: which college? Though Autum has been accepted at UConn and looks to study medicine, that plan has hit a snag.
“[UConn] is not offering a scholarship,’’ said Batin Ashante, who has raised Autum as a single father. “There’s a great possibility we may not end up there. We don’t feel we should have to pay them. We are looking for a child prodigy fellowship or a full, four-year academic scholarship.’’
Batin said that they have also reached out to neighboring schools like Columbia, Yale, NYU and Iona about accepting his gifted daughter on scholarship.
“You can’t imagine the opposition we’re running into,’’ he told TODAY.com. “She’s going to be 16 or 17 years old and come out of school with $125,000 in debt? That doesn’t make much sense. We need schools that are within our vicinity that would be willing to offer a scholarship and cater to her educational needs. If a school commits to us, we will commit to them.’’
“It has been frustrating because I really do deserve it,’’ Autum said. “This is my story, and it’s kind of unique. Thirteen and going to college — they should be offering full-paid scholarships.’’
Four languages, 149 IQ
By the time Autum was 8 years old, her IQ tested at an astronomical 149, according to her father, compared to 115 for most college graduates. She speaks four languages, including Spanish, Arabic and Swahili. By age 7, she had performed her poetry on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” and at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and she has continued to perform at numerous venues.
“Her extracurricular activities would surpass someone who is 40 years old,’’ Batin told TODAY.com. “The places she’s been, the travels she’s been on — at her young age, she’s done more than most adults.’’
Both father and daughter are confident that Autum will be enrolled in a university by the fall semester. “It’s going to be resolved,’’ Batin said. “It’s an inevitability. It’s just going to be a school that is accommodating and that shows vision.’’
Autum has been home-schooled her entire life by her father, who also enlisted the help of retired teachers in the community to help. Batin believes his daughter can be a symbol to the African-American and Latino communities — and everyone else — that great things can be achieved by anyone at a young age.
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“How can you not be inspired when she’s 13 years old and speaking at high school commencements?’’ he said.
Still, though Autum is equal or superior to most college students academically, there is the question of how a 13-year-old will get along socially with students at least five or six years older than her.
“I’m sociable with everybody,’’ Autum said. “It’s not one age group. I have a nice personality. I gravitate toward people, and they gravitate toward me. Socially, I’ve never had any problems.’’
“Academically, she’s advanced, but she’s still a girl — painting her toenails and hanging out with her friends,’’ her father said. “She’s a social butterfly. Her life is not so much different. It’s just that when it comes down to the nitty-gritty with the books, she goes all in.’’
Controversial at age 7
This is not the first time that Autum has been in the media limelight. When she was 7, Sean Hannity of Fox News labeled one of her poetry readings at a suburban school in New York racist. Others defended Autum, but she was still not invited to any more readings at the Peekskill, N.Y., middle school where she performed her poem, according to what Melvin Bolden, the teacher who invited her to speak, told the New York Post at the time. The school apologized to Autum’s parents via voicemail.
“That’s yesterday’s news,” Batin said of the controversy. “We’ve evolved past that. It’s six years later, and it’s time to move on.’’
Batin and Autum have prepared themselves for this moment by socializing with families of other children who have gone to college at 13 or 14. Two of them attend UConn, but are not on scholarship, according to Batin.
“This is not an isolated thing we’re doing,’’ he said. “It’s a real movement.’’
Autum agreed. “The message I try to deliver is that just because I’m young and I’m doing this, it’s not unusual,’’ she told TODAY.com. “It’s not something that kids my age can’t do.’’