Millions of teens across the country next May will join fellow high school students with all the pomp and circumstance to accept their high school diplomas. Young adults on college campuses nationwide will joyfully toss their caps in the air in celebration of earning undergraduate degrees.
One 16-year-old Kansas student will be doing both – only days apart.
Braxton Moral, a senior at Ulysses High School will be attending his high school graduation ceremony in Ulysses, Kansas, on May 19, before heading to Harvard University to collect his bachelor’s degree on May 30.
“I’m really excited. I’ve enjoyed getting to experience some of the rewards of my work,” Braxton told USA TODAY. “It only reinvigorates me to work harder.”
Braxton is on track to graduate from the Bachelor of Liberal Arts program at the Harvard Extension School, with a major government and a minor in English, according to Harry Pierre, associate director of communications for Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education.
Pierre couldn’t confirm whether Braxton is the first high school student to receive both the degree and high school diploma in the same month.
The process hasn’t been easy for Braxton, who has his eyes on a career in government.
“The main challenge has been time,” he said. He noted that his high school has been “generous” by allowing him to spend some class time each day focusing on his college course load.
“I spend a lot of time in the computer lab – two to three hours. After class, I get Harvard work done in chunks,” Braxton said.
He began his college degree quest in seventh grade at the age of 11, according to his mother Julie Moral.
Braxton said the transition between grade school classes and college-level courses presented a learning curve. “In the beginning, I wasn’t scoring as well as I do now,” he said, particularly when it came time to “figure out how to write an essay.”
His favorite class at Harvard: Ancient Greek Heros, a course that focuses on Greek mythology. And in Braxton’s spare time – which he insists he has more of than people would think – he plays video games, watches movies and practices martial arts.
He said that he doesn’t bring up the topic of college around his friends because it sparks “a divide that I don’t want to be there. College is just something I do on the side. It doesn’t make me any different from them.”
But the educational track of the teenage academic is far from average.
The first signs of his advanced intellect appeared when Braxton was a toddler. He would sit in the bleachers at his older sibling’s volleyball games and calculate the mathematical differences between the scores, his mother said.
“When he got to school with other students, that’s when we really began to notice,” Julie said. “The teachers all said that he needed to be challenged.”
By second grade, Braxton was taking advanced English and reading classes, his mom said. In the third grade, he was bussed to a different school every day to take upper-level math and English classes.
“He skipped the fourth grade. In fifth grade, he didn’t take math at all because there wasn’t really even math he could take,” Julie said.
His parents took him to a local community college for testing and the results revealed that his intelligence, “surpassed college freshman level,” Julie said. The Duke University Talent Identification Program told the family that Braxton needed to be challenged further and suggested that the Morals look into college-level courses.
The Morals decided on Harvard Extension School, which involved the family sending transcripts and letters of intent. Braxton said that he had to take a few placement tests and three classes before being admitted.
The extension school is one of 12 degree-granting institutions at Harvard University. It serves “every time zone, every culture and career background, every age from 18 to 89,” according to the website. Braxton will be 17 at the time of his graduation.
He took online classes at the extension school until his junior year of high school when he spent the summer at the main campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Harvard covers half of Braxton’s tuition costs. Because he doesn’t have a high school diploma, he didn’t qualify for financial aid. The family took out some Sallie Mae private loans to help pay the cost.
The total tuition cost for the 2018-2019 academic year goes up to $54,400, according to Harvard’s extension program website.
Braxton, the youngest of four siblings, hopes that his undergraduate degree will pave the way for admission to Harvard Law School in the fall.
“If I get into the law school, I can graduate when I’m 20, while the average age to get into law school is 27,” he said. “So, I always have that age boost.”
The Harvard hype has given Braxton opportunities to meet a number of political figures, including Supreme Court justices and members of Congress.
“I feel like the majority of my life has been shaped by Harvard. It changed the way I look at things. It really exposed me to a lot of things that I would have otherwise been exposed to,” Braxton said.
Kansas Govorner Dr. Jeff Crolyer took to Twitter earlier this year after meeting Braxton, writing: “Had a chance to meet with Braxton Moral in my office yesterday. This impressive young man is about to graduate from @Harvard at the age of 16! He wants to be a public servant and I encouraged him to do so. We’re proud to call him one of Kansas’ own!”
Julie said that in order to support her son’s career prospects she had to go against the educational norm. She said that she and her husband supported their children’s interests, helping them to excel. She said Braxton’s older siblings obtained college degrees and run their own businesses.
“We always try to keep him focused,” Julie said about Braxton. “He knows he has to do something with his life that changes the world. That’s just the responsibility that you get when God gives you the brains that he has.”
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown