Vivian Xie has a lot to offer at the age of 16.
She skipped several grades, completed 10th grade in a single summer, and is now the youngest graduate of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences in at least 40 years.
But she says it’s not a big deal.
“The past four years have been pretty normal. If you didn’t know my age, you probably couldn’t tell,” she said.
She began her post-secondary education at the University of Prince Edward Island at the age of 12 before moving to the U of T. Now she is completing a double degree in biology as well as cell and molecular biology. She will do her Masters in Applied Immunology at the Medical Faculty of the U of T in the fall.
Vivian Xie is graduating with dual degrees in biology and cell and molecular biology, which is a very specific niche, she says. (Supplied by Vivian Xie)
Her goal after that is her PhD, which means that she would graduate by the age of 22 or 23 when most people are completing their bachelor’s degrees.
Xie says her grandmother was a big part of her success and love of learning.
“She was a teacher … She started teaching me while I was playing in the park or having fun with my friends,” Xie said.
“She smuggled small, imperceptible pieces of information into my child’s brain. And I wouldn’t notice it at all. I would think she was playing a very fun game with me … That’s how I linked learning with a lot of fun” , added her.
“My grandmother gave me a lot of very good philosophies in life. You know, the thing with Asian parents, where every little thing is a life lesson.”
Xie describes her grandmother as “a super big role” in her life growing up. It was her grandma who taught her that studying can be fun. (Supplied by Vivian Xie)
Xie says she was never pressured to excel in school. She says that she always studied at her own pace, including realizing that when her studies didn’t challenge her, she had to challenge herself.
“You just have to give yourself the time and space to do things at your own pace. It’s not like racing,” she said.
She says that although she is a strong student, she enjoys other activities like creative writing and eating.
“People say, ‘Don’t be a jack of all trades, start specializing.’ But that’s terrible advice to me, “she said.
“If all you can do is use a hammer, you will see that everything else is a nail … I think this is a terrible way of approaching life.”
She says it helps her to be well rounded. In addition to her academic success, she is sure of one thing: her will to live is what drives her.
“All of these incredible, incredible coincidences happened so that we could exist now. And then you throw it away and it will be such a waste. Just have fun and really, really enjoy the time you have on earth, really, ” She said.
Age doesn’t define you, says the headmaster
Charlie Keil, the principal of Innis College at U of T, says that while Xie is very young, nothing prevents her from achieving her goals.
“She graduates before most students think about going to university,” he said.
“Her unusual circumstances never deter her outlook on life. She doesn’t see obstacles as something that prevents her from achieving what she wants. She just sees them as something she negotiates and works through, which is a very positive attitude. ” . “
Keil says the first time he met Xie during a meeting with school principals, he was amazed at her ability to hold her own.
“We [got] involved in this incredibly intense and intellectually rigorous debate, “he recalled.
Xie says she didn’t have much nightlife due to her age, but her friends said they didn’t get into it much anyway. (Supplied by Vivian Xie)
Keil says it just shows that people don’t have to be determined by their age. While some might think that college students would find it daunting being so much younger with someone, the opposite is often the case.
“It’s like, ‘Well, if she can do it and she’s fine, I can because I’ve been on her for several years,’” he said.
Look forward to not worrying you
Xie says she had a pretty typical college experience because no one really knew how young she was unless you knew her age.
But there were some things that she couldn’t participate in.
Xie says she knows that life is not a race to improve your grades, but rather to live your life to the fullest. She says employers don’t pay so much attention to student grade point average as “whether you’ve set aside the time for yourself to actually … improve and develop yourself.” (Supplied by Vivian Xie)
“I think I can’t drink,” she said. “So I don’t have a lot of nightlife, but I feel like it’s often overrated as a big part of college or university life.”
She is looking forward to the next steps and is enjoying an eventful summer.
“Driving around Shanghai, eating good food, having fun and just … not just [worrying] About everything.”