Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

10-Year-Old Reaches for `Next Star' Orange Park High Grad May Be State's Youngest

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

10-Year-Old Reaches for `Next Star' Orange Park High Grad May Be State's Youngest

Article excerpt

For Gregory Smith, a prepubescent child prodigy labeled "Albert Gregstein" and "The Genius," it has been an extraordinary week.

The young Star Wars fan celebrated his 10th birthday Wednesday, got a letter from Gov. Jeb Bush the same day congratulating him on his academic success, and graduated last night with high honors from Orange Park High School.

Standing on a box so he could reach the microphone during the ceremony, the 4-foot-6 senior gave a speech in which he challenged fellow graduates to "reach out for the next star" and pursue their dreams with vigor.

Not only is Gregory the youngest student to ever graduate from a high school in Clay County, but officials say he may be the youngest graduate ever in Florida.

All in all, not a bad way to end a week -- less than two weeks before Gregory and his parents move from Orange Park to Ashland, Va., where their son has been awarded a four-year academic scholarship at Randolph-Macon College.

"It's the most exciting day of my life," Gregory said during rehearsal yesterday morning with 584 classmates.

Although many seniors met for breakfast at 7 a.m., Janet Smith said she let her son sleep until 8 a.m. because she knew it was "going to be a long, tiring day."

Their day began at 9 a.m. when they arrived for a two-hour rehearsal on a hot, muggy Orange Park Raiders football field.

Following rehearsal, the proud mother and her son drove to the Publix Supermarket in Eagle Harbor, where they picked up a party platter and two dozen orange and white cupcakes for a party at their home after the ceremony.

As soon as the women working behind the counter in the bakery department spotted Gregory and his mom, they greeted them both with smiles and friendly words.

"Hi, are you all ready for tonight?" one woman asked the little, blond-haired, blue-eyed boy.

"Congratulations," another said, followed by a third who told Gregory to "have fun tonight."

Gregory, who says his favorite music is Christian rock and his favorite food is "anything vegetarian," courteously thanked the women for asking and said he was, indeed, ready for the big event.

It was an event he's been working toward since 1997 when he enrolled at Orange Park High and began a hefty course of study, including algebra, trigonometry, analytic geometry, chemistry, calculus, French and Spanish.

"Gregory has worked so hard for this moment," said Janet Smith. "He's accomplished what no one dreamed would be accomplished. He's in such a good mood, he was hopping around and singing this morning."

But, then, Gregory always seems to be in a good mood, she said, an assessment shared by students who know her son.

"When he's in the classroom he's at our level, focused and ready to learn," said Brandy Nelson, senior class secretary. …

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