Youngest Gatton Academy student tackles college

Gatton Academy junior Samuel Dong, 15, talks on the phone to his father after the WKU Student Research Conference March 24 in Gary Ransdell Hall. Samuel’s mother, Lin Q Fan, and his brother, Matthew Dong, came to watch his presentation on cell phone security. The next day, his mother and brother took him out to lunch with friends for his 15th birthday.

Maciena Justice

The college experience is different for everyone. For students at Gatton Academy, they get to start that college experience as high school juniors. For Samuel Dong, his experience started at age 14.

Dong, of Frankfort, entered the Gatton Academy as a 14-year-old junior because he skipped from kindergarten to second grade, causing him to be the youngest in his class for most of his school years.

He also skipped sixth grade after being held back in the fourth grade. Currently, he’s listed as a junior in high school and a freshman in college.

“I didn’t know his age until I took him to do research,” Brimah Vonjo said.

Vonjo, a graduate student from Los Angeles, is the resident counselor for the Dong’s floor.

“He doesn’t tell people his age so that they get to know him,” Vonjo said. “He models after older students and fits in well.”

Dong considers himself a normal high school junior — he plays video games, studies for classes and hangs out with his friends.

Dong said he and his friends hang out in the common area of their floor.

“My friends treat me the same as anyone else,” he said. “Not a lot of people know.”

He also said since Gatton is such a tight-knit group that it’s weird to think about being different.

“We all act the same,” he said.

For Dong, being younger isn’t really something that unusual for him.

“I’ve been younger my entire life,” Dong said. “I’ve grown accustomed to it.”

Dong said he feels like his age could be a disadvantage for him, but that is what motivates him to try harder so that he can be successful without his age affecting him.

Vonjo said Dong is mature for his age.

“The only way that people would know he’s younger was if he acted different or younger,” Vonjo said.

He said that Dong helped other students in a computer logic class.

“He is a fantastic study partner,” Vonjo said.

Vonjo said that on the surface, he couldn’t believe that Dong would face any disadvantages within his life but as his life moves forward that his peers will complete milestones before him, and that could be frustrating.

“By the time he is 21, his bachelor degree will be a few years behind him,” Vonjo said.

Although, Vonjo believes that Dong will be very successful in life.

“He has a healthy competitive spirit,” he said. “He fits in well. He has a great inner strength.”

Vonjo said that Dong is very willing to engage his fellow students.

“Other students go to him for advice and help with studying,” Vonjo said.