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Local teen set to graduate from GSU at 18

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Posted: November 24, 2007 1:08 p.m.
Updated: December 11, 2007 7:16 a.m.
    In most ways, Emily Hager is the typical college senior.
    She’s an aspiring ballet dancer, having recently performed at the Emma Kelly Theater in the Averitt Center for the Arts. She teaches a jazz dance class for her dance studio — something many accomplished teenage dancers do to help bring up the next generation.
    And, of course, she holds down a part-time job at a local coffee shop — Statesboro Brews.
    And, oh yeah, she's preparing to graduate from Georgia Southern University after four years, obtaining her bachelor's degree in creative writing with a Spanish minor.
    While graduating in four years may not seem atypical, the fact she was born in 1989 most certainly is.
    Emily Hager is 18.
 
   About Emily
    “Well, I had already skipped second grade, so I was already a year ahead of my class,” Emily said, answering the question on how she graduated college so fast. “I did ninth and tenth grade at the charter school, but because it was self-paced, I was able to take extra classes and basically did ninth and tenth grade in the same year.”           
    Since her options were limited at this point, she and her mother, Melinda Roell, decided to dual enroll her at GSU. Her mom said the decision was easy since Emily’s been around the university so much.
    “We have a lot of friends involved in the university,” said Roell. “She attended the Family Life Center [now Child Development Center] when she was in preschool.”
    Due to a disagreement over her course of study, Emily was ultimately classified as “home-schooled” by Bulloch County, even though that was logistically feasible. So, when she went to take the GED in order to graduate, she was told she couldn’t take the test.
    “You have to take a bunch of remedial courses if you’re going to take the GED before you're 16. But I obviously didn’t need remedial courses – that’s the whole point,” said Hager.
    Instead, she was allowed in under “early admission.” This essentially meant she could eventually get into college without a high school diploma and would use a little known provision under the Hope Scholarship to get in. Plus, she had good SAT score, which she took as a 13-year-old.
    Now, according to her mother, it was a question of funding. By all rights, Emily should be entering the ninth grade and should be receiving a public education. But the HOPE Scholarship is not available until the age of 16.
    Her mother said they paid the first four semesters of college, until she turned 16 and could legitimately obtain HOPE Scholarship funding with her impeccable first year grades.
    “Everything we’ve done is outside the box,” Roell said. “The system is not set up for outside the box.”

Her first year
    “I didn’t know,” said her English 1002 teacher, Kathy Albertson. “There was no indication she was younger than the rest of the group.”
    Emily said there was a lot of the high school experience she didn’t know about.
    “I was oblivious to a lot of things my first year,” said Emily. “Like, I had no idea what someone what somebody who was hung over looked like or anything like that. Simple stuff that normal people take for granted, I had no idea what they were talking about — in that way being so young sort of protected me.”
    Assigned by Albertson as one of her readings was Tom White’s novel about the innocent freshman that goes off to college, “My Name is Charlotte.” It was the chapter about roommates, rampant sex and binge drinking parties.
    “We were talking about values and how do we decide which of our parents values do we keep and when do we create are own,” said Albertson. “That was going to be the discussion that day.
    Before class, she received a call from Emily’s mother, Melinda.
    “Oh gosh, here we go. Helicopter parent,” said Albertson. When mom told her the story, she was surprised to learn that Emily was only 15. “15?” she said.

Now and into the future

    “She’s always fully accepted and respected. In fact, I would imagine the majority of people don’t even know the age difference,” said Peter Christopher, who is associate professor of writing and linguistics at GSU. He said he’s had Emily in two classes now and that she’s outstanding in every respect.
    “She’s a mature young woman and I would say there is no difference between her and any of the other students,” said Christopher. “She’s remarkable in that way.”
    Professor Albertson agreed with the assessment.
    “She always comes prepared. I think that’s why I didn’t notice she was young — she was right in the middle doing what needed to be done — a professional college student. Motivated, focused, she enjoyed learning and applying her learning.”
    One of her classmates, Mark Cameron, attends two classes with Emily this semester: language and linguistics as well as frameworks and writing studies. He says she carries more than her own during classroom discussions.
    “She seems to have a more mature view than some people and she seems to be actively learning rather than just trying to just get through college — you know, just sit around, get the grade and get out.” 
    Lindsay Chumley, a GSU psychology major, is a close friend of Emily’s.
    "She was sitting on a bench and reading a book and I saw her and nobody else was in the hall — so I decided to start talking to her."
    They haven’t been able to get rid of each other since.
    “Emily is a good case study,” clowns Chumley, while Emily laughs, overhearing the conversation. “That’s why I keep her. I’m going to a thesis on Emily — the young genius in modern society.”
    As for the future, Emily hopes to get into a ballet dancing program at a training academy. Until then, she's focused on graduating in Spring 2008.

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