It is difficult to listen to Chris Strynar Jr., 16, and not have your self-esteem sink. Strynar attends Norton High School, the Harvard Extension School, and Wheaton College, where he’s taking a physics class “just for fun.”
Google search results are full of his educational accomplishments. In May, Strynar will receive his bachelor’s degree from Harvard Extension School, with a concentration in mathematics, a year before he graduates from high school. He plans to begin a graduate program in physics this year.
Strynar remains casual about his academic accomplishments. Despite a heavy academic load, he plays tennis, hangs out with his friends, plays video games, and has a girlfriend. Metro Minute spoke to Strynar about what motivates him and what he hopes to inspire in others. (Comments edited for length and clarity.)
What inspired your love of learning?
As a kid I grew up loving mathematics. I was always really good at it, too. I learned addition, subtraction, and multiplication multiple years ahead of my peers. I love doing it. I wasn’t being forced to do it by my parents, it’s not like they were trying to make me into a child prodigy. I just enjoy doing math.
Was attending college classes as a high school student intimidating? How was that transition?
Certainly. I believe the first on-campus class I took was in seventh grade. It was definitely frightening. I was in a room with a bunch of 20-something-year-olds and a 40-something professor. Of course it’s going to be scary.
After the first few classes … no one really cared that I was much younger! I don’t know if it’s because I’m tall so I don’t look younger, but I noticed that it was never really ever an issue for me.
Is it hard to balance your day-to-day life with school?
I like to think of it as I’m going to high school full-time and college is a job that I’m working — and obviously not making any money. But when you do the math and you look at how much time I end up spending on the college classes, it comes out about right [in comparison to working a job while in school]. I’m pretty much just a normal kid that has a job.
Why have you decided to be so open and public about your academic achievements?
What I really want to do is try and help other gifted kids that are like me. I feel like there’s a lot of unnoticed talent that goes through our public school system and I want to do something about that. [Enrolling in college classes] is probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my entire life. Opening that door for other kids is really important. I’m hoping to do that in part by or through the media.
Any words of advice for younger, gifted kids?
Constantly along the path that I’ve taken, people have always told me, “You’re too young, you’re too young to join this program, too young to pass this class, you can’t do this.” You have to prove them wrong. You know your own limitations — no one else does.
Correction: an earlier version of this story gave the incorrect age for Chris Strynar Jr. He is 16.