Braxton Moral was 11 when he took his first Harvard class.
Even after skipping fourth grade, he was bored with school in Ulysses, Kan., so his parents went looking for enrichment courses. They found the Harvard Extension School, an online version of the famous Ivy League university, and signed him up.
Next May, if all goes as planned, Braxton will earn his high school diploma from Ulysses High School in western Kansas along with a bachelor of arts in government and a minor in English from the storied school in Cambridge, Mass.
“It’s worked out pretty great, actually,” says Braxton, 16. “This has allowed me to get an education and get a little bit ahead of the game while not losing out on any of the normal school stuff.”
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Normal school stuff like prom, tennis matches, forensics and student council.
Braxton attends Ulysses High while taking about 16 hours of Harvard courses online per semester. The past two summers, he has traveled to the Harvard campus in Massachusetts for additional courses, which are required for his undergraduate degree.
Ulysses High administrators adjusted his schedule to allow him two to three hours a day to work on college courses. One recent afternoon, he missed a high school weights class — one of his physical education requirements — to take an oral exam for his online Spanish class.
“I really appreciate what they do for me here,” he said.
Braxton’s parents, Carlos and Julie Moral (pronounced “morale”), say they didn’t want to rush their son through high school, but rather looked for ways to challenge him academically while he progressed with his peers.
The Ulysses school district allowed Braxton to take some high school classes while he was in middle school, and he also completed an online class through Fort Hays State University.
Duke University’s Talent Identification Program suggested the Morals look into the Harvard Extension School, which required Braxton to do well in three courses before applying to the online degree program. The school primarily serves adults who are working full-time — the average age of students in Harvard Extension is 32.
Braxton so far is the only student to successfully pursue a Harvard bachelor’s degree while enrolled in high school — and he may be the last.
The program recently changed its minimum age policy, and although students ages 15 and older can register for classes, they must be 21 and have a high school diploma to apply for the undergraduate degree program.
Braxton said he’s glad he decided to continue attending his Kansas high school, which has about 440 students, while pursuing his college degree.
“I had this fearful dream of ending up this socially awkward person,” he said, laughing. “I didn’t want to wake up one day and have no friends, so I decided to go with an experience that allowed me to have a normal life.”
Like many teenage boys, Braxton loves playing video games, including World of Warcraft. He’s also working on his Eagle Scout award.
After achieving one Harvard degree, he’d like to go for more. He intends to apply for law school — potentially at Harvard — and eventually pursue a career in politics.
“That’s my main interest,” he said. “I enjoy that world and think being a politician would be the end game for me.”
He has spoken with his congressional representatives — Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Roger Marshall — and met with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor during a trip to Washington, D.C.
Other political influences include Ronald Reagan and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“I feel like he was kind of a renaissance man in government life,” Braxton said of Eisenhower. “He went from West Point to the military to the presidency — kind of covered all the bases. I feel like he led a full and complete life.”
Braxton will be 17 — still not old enough to vote — when he gets his Harvard degree next spring. He says he’s gotten used to jokes about his academic prowess, including comparisons to “A Beautiful Mind” and to Sheldon Cooper, the genius character on “Big Bang Theory.”
“I guess I just want people to know I’m normal, you know, not that different,” he said. “It’s my eternal fight to convince people of that.”