She’s 14 and will soon be reading for her Masters in Legal Studies at Harvard University. No, Eugenie de Silva is not like any other 14-year-old. Yes, she does love going to the movies with her dad and enjoys playing soccer- but Eugenie’s intelligence is far, far ahead of other teenagers her age. At the rate [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Harvard, here comes a teen prodigy

14 year-old Eugenie de Silva will soon begin a Masters in Law at one of the leading Ivy League Universities. In this Skype interview she tells Shaveen Jeewandara about her achievements and ambitions

She’s 14 and will soon be reading for her Masters in Legal Studies at Harvard University. No, Eugenie de Silva is not like any other 14-year-old. Yes, she does love going to the movies with her dad and enjoys playing soccer- but Eugenie’s intelligence is far, far ahead of other teenagers her age.

Eugenie at the Harvard University library

At the rate she’s going, this young prodigy from Harrogate, Tennessee might well achieve her ambition of becoming the Secretary of Defense of the United States of America. She already has her Bachelor’s in Intelligence Analysis from the American Military University, and will begin reading for her Masters in Legal Studies at Harvard this fall. Eugenie is also completing her Masters in Intelligence Analysis at the American Military University

It has been a succession of ‘firsts’ for the child prodigy who has been on the fast track from a very early age. At the age of seven, Eugenie completed the Johns Hopkins University state test for verbal and mathematics talent and won first place for the state of Virginia. “I competed against 15 and 16-year-old students to win this competition,” Eugenie says nonchalantly, hinting that she finally had some healthy competition.

Aged 11, she had graduated from the Missouri University High School with a college preparatory high school diploma, and subsequently graduated from the American Military University with a Bachelor’s degree in Intelligence Analysis with a 4.0 GPA in June this year. “All the while, I had the ambition to attend Harvard University. My major career goals are to work in the U.S. government, and also to open my own law firm. Of course, Harvard is well-known for its law school, and I was always focused on having the opportunity to attend such a prestigious university,” she says.

So now, at just 14, her legal studies are about to begin! “I’m really excited, and looking forward to Harvard, and the past few weeks have been all in preparation for it,” she says, gleefully. Looking forward maybe an understatement as she has already completed the first assignment of the course.

‘Genius’ though is a word she dislikes. Eugenie believes that it’s all in the hard work, and maybe a just a bit of good genes thrown in the mix.  Her father, Prof. Eugene de Silva, was a product of St. Joseph’s College, where he was the captain of the college Karate team as well as an avid Sinhala orator in the debating society. He later went onto join the Institute of Chemistry and served as the President of its Students’ Union. He migrated to UK in 1988 and then moved to the States in 2004. He is a professor in both Physics and Chemistry at Walters State Community College and founder of the Virginia Institute of Research.

Signs of academic ambition even at a very young age!

Being a single parent, Prof. de Silva had his tribulations, recalling the days when he nightly woke up more than ten times to care for baby Eugenie. Father and daughter share a strong bond and Prof. de Silva can well take credit for guiding his daughter’s exceptional intelligence on the right path. Eugenie’s mother is British.

“From a young age, my father has always promoted education and I have grown up in a household conducive to learning. When I first attended primary school at the age of 3, I won the headmaster’s award each year,” Eugenie says.

Prof. Silva first saw signs of great things to come when Eugenie started typing on the computer, even before she could write. He had an inkling that Eugenie would excel in her studies, so he gradually set the course for her – but never did he realize that his little girl would be reading for her Masters at just 14.

Being such a wiz-kid, there was the unavoidable bullying and teasing, but Eugenie made sure that it wouldn’t deter her. “Everyone knew that I genuinely loved school, and that was the focus of much childish teasing,” Eugenie says. “But things got a lot better, and I was surrounded by children who genuinely wanted to learn”

“My dad has always taught me through research. His novel teaching techniques have continuously given me the opportunities to learn the real-world connections of subject materials,” Eugenie said. Prof. de Silva’s teaching style is a unique blend of teaching methods which personalizes the common syllabi of classes.

Prof. de Silva is also a great exponent of the martial arts and was incidentally the first to introduce and produce a degree programme in Martial Arts. He has authored the book, ‘In Recognition of Wisdom – A degree in Martial Arts’ and his techniques have been adopted by the state of Tennessee and soon will be taken into consideration by the U.S Department of Education.

He migrated to the U.S a decade ago but has never lost touch with his motherland and made sure his daughter knows her roots. “I definitely keep in touch with my Sri Lankan roots, since I visit Sri Lanka every year. There’s always something to look forward in the accepting people and the great biriyanis,” Eugenie says. Prof. de Silva has brought Eugenie down to Sri Lanka, every year since she was just four months old. Their usual ritual includes a stay at the Mount Lavinia Hotel. “I love being at the Mount Lavinia Hotel and the staff there have seen me grow through the ages. They’re probably proud of me right now,” Eugenie tells us with a smile that’s very much close to home.

Eugenie spent her younger days reading Agatha Christie novels, but very early on set her sights on a post in Government, no less than the powerful position of US Defense Secretary. “Working in the field of intelligence has always been one of my major goals. The unique dynamics of the field genuinely piques my interest and captivates my attention. My biggest career goal is to become the U.S. Secretary of Defense,” Eugenie explaining that she has a passion to promote peace and work for the recognition of human rights and civil liberties.

Close bond: Prof. Eugene de Silva with Eugenie

There have not been many challenges in her remarkable journey. “The only major difficulty was that my dad has continuously had to pay out-of-pocket, because I am too young to be eligible for scholarships – which is definitely a challenge in completing my education at such a fast pace,” she says.

“Within the next five years, I hope to publish my novel to inspire the youth of today to focus on their education. I also will have completed both of my Masters degrees, which would give me the qualifications to even teach. I hope that I can inspire and help others improve their education,” she says earnestly, winding up our Skype interview.

The world will surely applaud her, but there’s no doubt that the emerald isle will be behind her every step of the way.

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