At 16, Onalaska Boy Preparing to Pursue Third College Degree

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Aiden Hunter likes things to make sense, which is funny because his story has a way of confusing people. When you’re 16 years old and on the cusp of obtaining your second associate degree, the general public can understandably have a difficult time comprehending what they are hearing.

“It’s easy to explain, but it’s difficult to understand,” said Aiden, who will graduate from Lower Columbia College with his second associate degree on June 16.

Of the two schools of academic thought, Aiden is decidedly staked out in the math and science camp. He says that he prefers the sciences because they are based on a concrete set of concepts and principles whereas endeavors such as writing and art are often left up to individual interpretation.

“With math there’s rules and the rules govern everything,” noted Aiden.

Aiden first started attending Lower Columbia College as a 12-year-old and will enroll at Saint Martin’s University in the fall. Each school day, he will make the 45-minute commute from his family’s yurt home in the countryside of Onalaska to the urban guts of Lacey. With two associate degrees in hand already, Aiden will begin his schooling at Saint Martin’s as a 16-year-old junior. He plans on having his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering within two years and his master’s in civil engineering one year after that. An applicable doctorate is his final goal in the classroom, which Aiden believes he could possibly obtain by the time he’s 21. He says he doesn’t know precisely what he wants to do with that eventual pile of degrees just yet, but that’s OK. After all, he’s still so young he doesn’t have his driver's license yet.

Although it might seem as if his schooling has been as easy, for a rare and special case like Aiden’s, there have been obstacles at nearly every turn. For instance, he is too young to qualify for scholarships. He is also too young to receive student loans or to enroll in Running Start. That hard reality has placed the financial burden directly on the shoulders of his mother, Vanessa Hunter. 

“There just are not programs for him,” said Vanessa, who never expected to be paying for college just 12 years after Aiden was born.

Aiden also struggles with dysgraphia, a relative disorder to dyslexia that makes it difficult for him to transcribe numbers and letters accurately even though they compute perfectly in his head.

“It’s been a challenge all the way,” added Aiden.

Where some people may envision overbearing parents cracking the whip and smacking rulers in order to create overachieving scholastic spawn, Hunter’s case is not like that at all. Aiden and Vanessa both agree that they sort of stumbled upon the academic fast track, and there’s been no looking back since. Vanessa has homeschooled both Aiden and his 9-year-old brother Orien, and she says there is no secret to their success other than that she allows her children to learn and move on to a new level at their own pace. It just so happens that Aiden’s pace has been leaps and bounds ahead of his peers. By the time he was 12 years old, the Hunters realized that Aiden was already doing college level work, so they figured he might as well do the work for college credit rather than just for fun.

With all the rigors of his accelerated schooling, it may seem inevitable that Aiden has missed out on the typical trappings of childhood. However, that perception is not something that bothers Aiden in the least.

“Honestly, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything,” said Aiden, who counts reading as one of his primary pastimes when he’s not hitting the school books. He also likes to take hikes in nature and he finds rocks to be fascinating, although his rigorous studies have steered him away from the obvious field of geology. Aiden says that the vast majority of the time IN the classroom is exactly where he wants to be.

“It’s what I want to do,” he said. “Nothing makes me nearly as happy as going to school.”

Aiden enjoys the college atmosphere because of the additional resources available to him as well as the seriousness of the academic atmosphere. 

“Everyone at college is either there to learn or they’re not going to be there that long,” Aiden astutely pointed out.

Aiden says that when he first attended class at LCC as a 12-year-old, there was a lot of curiosity among the students and faculty about what such a young person was doing crashing their classes. By now, that curiosity has worn off, and, “At this point I’ve been at LCC so long that I kind of just blend in,” said Aiden.

Still, the initial adjustment period to the college classroom setting was quite a culture shock.

“As a homeschool student I didn’t really understand the classroom etiquette,” noted Aiden. “I thought if you had a question or didn’t understand how something work that you would ask a question … I probably raised my hand more than I should have.”

In spite of the unsure start in the classroom, Aiden says most of his teachers have been neutral about his presence. However, he believes that some teachers have made things extra hard for him out of fear that they will be perceived as taking it easy on the youngster. Aiden says he didn’t mind having to prove himself, but some of his college peers came to his defense anyhow. In the background, both Aiden and his mother say that the LCC school administration has been instrumental in his continued success as an underage college student.

“They’ve been great,” said Vanessa. “They have really had his back through the whole process.”

While Aiden insists that he is happiest in the classroom and that he does not regret missing out on any of the typical childhood experiences that a public school schedule affords, his mother does make an effort to keep her brainy soon well rounded.

“Every summer we fight because he wants to go to school and I say no,” said Vanessa. “It’s my rule. You have to be a kid.”

Aiden says that he usually tries to downplay his scholastic achievements when conversing with his fellow youths. He prefers not to make a big deal out of something that has come so naturally to him.

“In terms of my own peers I try not to mention it. I just like to learn. I don’t want to be put on pedestal. I just want to learn and continue learning,” Aiden explained before carefully carving out a caveat. “Maybe if I create some life changing invention then maybe a pedestal would be appropriate.”