MUNCIE, Ind. — Walking down McKinley Avenue between classes, 16-year-old Dora Lott doesn’t look very different from the other freshmen at Ball State University.
Dora is the only full-time, on-campus 16-year-old on record in Ball State’s history, a university spokesperson said. But even though university records can’t confirm it — because applicants aren’t required to give their date of birth — a handful of other Ball State graduates reached out to The Star Press on Thursday, saying they also started at 16.
Even if she’s not the first 16-year-old on campus, Dora definitely is one of very few.
Just like most students swarming the sidewalks on Tuesday afternoon, she had a heavy looking backpack on her shoulders and lanyard holding keys sticking out of her pocket. Her large, dark-framed glasses help make her look mature, but even more so it’s the way she holds herself. She has a quiet confidence that feels more like 18 than 16.
Sometimes even Dora forgets she’s two years younger than her classmates, although she admits she’s more aware of the age difference while sitting in college classes.
“I feel like I’m an 18-year-old,” she said after navigating to a quiet table in the corner of Woodworth Dining Hall. “People are like, ‘Are you scared because you’re 16?’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m scared because I just went from being in one place for four years to a different place.'”
Dora’s parents decided she should skip second grade after her teacher at Monroe Central Schools noticed her catching on much faster than the others. Her mother, Cari Lott, said she wasn’t coming home and talking about her classmates, and didn’t want to invite any of them to her birthday party.
“It was less, ‘I’m a prodigy,’ and more that I just needed something else that other kids didn’t,” Dora said. Being told to work at her own pace didn’t work, Cari said. Dora needed a bar to be held up high, so she knew where to reach.
It was the same story in third and fourth grade. Dora preferred to hang out with her two older siblings’ friends. Cari could feel Dora getting bored. She even considered homeschooling her. But the principal of the K-6 elementary offered to let her skip fifth grade as well.
“It wasn’t that traumatic because a lot of people treated me like their little sister,” Dora said. “No one made fun of me. People thought I was immature, but to be fair I was nine.”
The age difference was a lot clearer back then, when she had to use a step stool while playing trumpet in the school marching band. Or when 10-year-old Dora was technically in 7th grade but taking a high school-level French class at the junior/senior high school, sitting next to 17-year-olds.
“She was small, she was quiet, she didn’t say much, but then after we got to know her, she was really cool,” said Mackenzie Stahl, who has been Dora’s friend since sixth grade and now also commutes to Ball State.
Cari and Dora’s father, Dwayne Lott, said they only briefly considered leaving Monroe Central. In the end, they said they liked the small-school feel, and they never had to fight to get opportunities for Dora. Teachers and administrators worked hard to get all students into all the classes they wanted. While there might have been fewer electives offered, Dora took advantage of the advanced placement and college credit classes.
“We’d rather (our children) be in a public school because that’s where you learn your social skills,” Cari said.
Dora graduated with a 4.014 GPA, fourth in her class.
“Sometimes I’m like, what if I hadn’t skipped two grades, would I have been valedictorian?” she said. “But honestly I don’t think so, I think if I had stayed I would have gotten lazy and I would have gotten OK grades.”
Like her classmates, Dora started planning for college during her junior year. But for her, it was when she was 14 years old. Her parents made it clear she would still need to live at home, although Dwayne concedes that she is probably mature enough to be living in a dorm.
Dora chose Ball State because it was close to enough to home to commute — a 30-minute drive each way — and she fell in love with the campus during a tour. She pieced together enough scholarships to cover tuition. Turns out, graduating high school at 16 doesn’t really help when it comes to finding money for school, Cari said.
On a typical day, Dora makes the 30-minute drive to campus — she got her license the week before school started — goes to class and then spends the hours in between classes on the third floor of Bracken Library.
“I have a lot of free time,” she said, which is much different from high school. “I’ve spent like hours in Bracken Library just sitting and watching ‘Who’s Line is it Anyway?’ Trying to do homework, but I don’t like homework very much.”
She’s a math education major, in the honors college and currently taking 17 credit hours of classes. The maximum course load is 18 credit hours.
One week in, her age has already caused a problem. For one of her education classes, students are supposed to have a background check done before they visit Burris Laboratory School to student teach in the high school. But she would need to be 18 to submit herself for a background check.
“What’s really awkward is that this year or next year, if I go into a high school, I will be as old as the students that I am teaching,” she said.
When professor Ruby Cain heard Dora’s story, she immediately emailed her. Cain also started college at 16 after skipping two grades in elementary school, 48 years ago. She believes Dora will do well because she is self-assured, independent and focused.
“For me, (starting college at 16) was really kind of overwhelming,” Cain said. “And a little bit scary… That’s why I reached out to her. I didn’t know anyone else with that story.”
Dora didn’t know anyone who had skipped two grades, either, so the email meant a lot.
“It just makes me feel better that I’ve not talked in two weeks because I’m a 16-year-old college student and just don’t have the guts to.”
Source: The (Muncie) Star Press
Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by The (Muncie) Star Press.