19-year-old graduate ‘starts life sooner’
While many college teenagers struggle to even pick a major, Joann Gold graduated from USF with a bachelor’s degree at only 19 years old, double majoring in biomedical science and psychology as well as minoring in political science.
Gold, who graduated two weeks ago, entered the university when she was 16 in Spring 2011, having previously earned an associate’s degree through dual enrollment at Pasco-Hernando Community College.
Though undergoing college early would overwhelm some, Gold said she got more out of the experience than most, getting involved on campus and even joining a sorority.
Looking back, however, she said being at least two years younger than most students presented some challenges.
Practically, she said some everyday problems, such as finding a job or going to a doctor’s office without a parent present, were frustrating.
In her first year, she wasn’t even allowed to buy a ticket for an R-rated movie without an adult.
“There are things I had to work through,” she said. “But everyone has things they have to overcome.”
Socially, Gold said she was initially nervous about peer reaction to her age. However, she said she learned the reaction depended on the person.
“If they had known me for awhile, or it was a professor I was close with, they didn’t treat me differently,” she said. “But if it was someone I just met … I did feel like I was treated like the plague. Who wants to hang out with a 16-year-old in college?”
The first incident when her age came up, she said, was when a research methods class did a statistical analysis of the classroom and a student asked out loud who the 16-year-old was.
Her social life was also closely tied to school life.
“My first year I kind of just sat in the library,” she said. “When your friends are going out, you want to go with them. But I couldn’t even get into the places.”
Brenna Lynch, a member of the Delta Gamma sorority with Gold and a senior majoring in physics, said she didn’t suspect Gold was 17 when they first met for a library study group.
“She’s very well-spoken, she has a lot of self-confidence, she’s very goal oriented and self-motivated,” Lynch said. “Not only wasn’t she hindered by her age, she wasn’t hindered by her workload.”
Nonetheless, Gold said her life outside the classroom was anything but empty.
Gold was a tutor, volunteer, waitress, karaoke DJ, bodybuilder, pianist, Delta Gamma member and Italian cultural club president throughout her time at USF.
“Friends would look at my calendar and say I was Superwoman … but I prefer to live like that,” she said. “I love learning and I enjoy pushing myself … you should never stop learning. Life is a learning experience in itself.”
Gold said the key to managing work is organization and aspiration.
“I think anybody can do what they put their mind to,” she said. “But to do it and to enjoy it are two different things.”
Gold’s love for learning and helping people motivated her through school.
“I get to start life sooner,” she said. “I now get to pursue life.”
In active pursuit, Gold will backpack through Europe this summer, followed by a medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic in October and a trip to Columbia.
After a year of traveling, Gold said she hopes to enter medical school in Fall 2015.
Gold said she is grateful for coming to terms with her future so young, and hopes students at any age will be able to do the same.
“(People my age) are at a much different point in their life,” she said. “They don’t know what they’re doing with their lives — but that’s OK. Everyone at some point in their life figures it out.”