Adrian Gilliam, 17, will graduate from UCF this week at an age before most students even start attending college.
Then again, he’s always been ahead of the curve. When Gilliam was 4, he started homeschooling through Florida Virtual School, an online public school that allows students to learn at their own pace, and at 13 the Orlando native started classes at UCF.
Now as one of the university’s youngest graduates, he will earn his Bachelor of Science in Computer Science during Thursday’s 9 a.m. commencement ceremony at the CFE Arena.
“I never was really trying to be the youngest graduate,” Gilliam said. “But being such a young graduate is something I’m proud of. I’m just a normal alumni.”
Some might argue about whether his accomplishments at such a young age is “normal.” From early on, Gilliam balanced martial arts training and learning Chinese with his schoolwork. In 2007, he won his first of several national level tournaments at the U.S. Open Karate Championships, and later that year, at the age of 10, earned his black belt.
When he was 12, he started online classes on FLVS.net, where the state provides live teachers. He took all honors and AP courses, except two years of Chinese language, receiving As in all FLVS classes, said his father, Michael, a UCF alumnus with a master’s in business. He now is fluent in Mandarin and finished the course work needed for early college admission in August 2011, the same month he started UCF.
With that background, he wasn’t intimidated by attending what has become the second largest university in the nation.
“With so many students here, I take that as an opportunity to show that you can make a difference,” he said. “It’s up to you to create your own opportunities.”
To read more about this week’s commencement ceremonies at UCF click here.
Because he was born in Orlando, he said that when he first thought of coming to UCF “it wasn’t a super deal because it was the logical step. But then I soon had lots of friends and opportunities here.”
Gilliam has been active in a variety of organizations at UCF.
This past year he served as a Student Government Association senator for the College of Engineering and Computer Science and recently met with members of the Florida Legislature to discuss laws affecting the university and its student body. He also represented UCF’s Asian student groups at the East Coast Asian American Student Union 2015 Conference at Harvard University and recently was a guest speaker at Global UCF.
Earlier at UCF, he served as president and vice president of the Asian Pacific American Coalition and chair for the Level-Up Leadership Conference for University and High School students. He also has been an undergraduate teaching assistant for the past two years.
“I am so proud to have had the opportunity to represent the Asian-American community through everything I’ve done,” he said. “And serving as senator…was one of the best experiences of my undergraduate career. Working alongside such amazing and hardworking senators was something that I will always treasure.”
He said his motivation comes from “being able to work hard, not only for myself, but for the community, and for my family and friends to be proud of me.”
Thanks to an internship he had at Optima Healthcare Solutions in Palm City, he’ll also start work there fulltime as a software developer in June.
He has plans to continue his education, possibly pursuing a master’s in computer science, but he said his activities at UCF also raised his interest in law and politics.
“It’s very easy to see how laws affect peoples’ lives,” he said. “That’s how I’d like to help.”