Cranston High School East sophomore Darien Nate Khea has had a slightly different summer experience than some of his classmates. Rather than getting ready for his junior year, Khea is getting ready for his freshman year of college. Khea will be attending Bard College at Simon's Rock in the fall, leaving Rhode Island at the end of August to begin his college career. He is 15 years old.
"I had this sudden urge last summer that I no longer wanted to be in high school. I felt as though the social and learning environment were tolerable. At this point in my life I decided to challenge myself to the extent of unknown abilities," said Khea.
Checking out his options, he began an Internet search.
"While searching through the Web, I stumbled upon Bard College at Simon’s Rock, which will be the school that I am attending this upcoming fall. The whole idea of leaving high school after 10th or 11th grade was captivating," he said.
Located in the Berkshires and founded in 1966, Bard College takes pride in doing what no other college in the country does: hand-selecting students who have completed up to 10th or 11th grade and who are ready and willing to take on something more.
Bard offers 43 concentrations, many of them interdisciplinary, and Khea can receive an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from the school.
Khea began applying for scholarships and received the AEP Scholarship through the Acceleration to Excellence Program.
Khea said that the application process was not a simple one, especially for a first-time applicant.
"I had to write a total of four essays and mail it to the school. Simon’s Rock requires each applicant to be interviewed. The school is located in Great Barrington, Mass., and if you lived relatively close you could drive to campus and be interviewed there," he said.
Those students who are not in driving distance to the school are interviewed over the phone.
Many of his peers were sure Khea must be joking, and to this day he believes many won’t be convinced until school starts in the fall.
"When I told students about attending college at the age of 15, they thought I was joking with them. They did not believe it. Most of the students were surprised and asked me how I was able to enroll earlier,” Khea said. “Students and even adults were not supportive at all. They thought I would not be able to do well in college and that I would be better off in high school.”
Once at Bard this fall, Khea will jump right in with his college classes.
"My freshman and sophomore year of college will consist of calculus I, calculus II, linear algebra and vector calculus for math. I will be taking physics I and II, chemistry I and II, classical and quantum mechanics and statistical thermodynamics for science. With all of that, I will also be learning Mandarin," he said.
In the final weeks before he leaves for college, Khea says his emotions are mixed, from nervousness to excitement, and yet he has no regrets about his choice.
"I am both nervous and excited to be attending college. I am nervous for the usual reasons as to what the work will be like, who will be in my class, and will I be friends with anyone. However, I am excited because I finally get to pick the classes I want and do not have to take the required classes in high school," he said. Khea said he would miss his class at East but is glad to be leaving.
“I get to experience more of a challenge and learn more within two years of college as opposed to two years of high school,” he said.
Khea is already focused on his future beyond Bard College at Simon's Rock. He plans to take rigorous math and science courses in order to transfer to a different school of engineering.
"As of right now, I am looking to transfer into MIT, Stanford or CalTech. I am planning to major in both aerospace and mechanical engineering," he said, noting that he will remain undeclared at Bard.
Khea looks forward to returning to Rhode Island in the future and hopes to give back to the Cranston community.
"Although I am leaving to college and will be living somewhere else, Rhode Island will always be the place where I grew up. Cranston High School East will forever be my alma mater. Once my plans have succeeded, I will return to give back to my community," Khea said.
Leaving high school may not be for everyone, but Khea encourages his fellow peers not to be afraid to take risks.
"If I had to leave a word of advice, that would be, do not be stuck within the confinements of society. Knowledge is one thing, but the way you use it is another. Use it wisely and it will shape the way you want your life to turn out,” he said. “Although there may be obstructions, it is up to you whether you want to go around it. If you are not ready to experience unknown possibilities, then you are not ready to risk. Greatness is within all of us. In this time of inspiration, we are all seeking to create ourselves.”