Like thousands of 14-year-olds, Kairan Quazi graduates this month — but not from middle school. He’ll be getting his bachelor’s degree at Santa Clara University as the youngest graduate in the institution’s history, and then heading to SpaceX to become a software engineer.
“I’m really excited for this new chapter of my life,” said Kairan, who will be moving from Pleasanton to Washington state with his mom, Jullia, in July to join SpaceX’s Starlink team.
The clues were there from the start that Kairan (pronounced Ky-ren) was no ordinary kid.
Just a few months after her boy’s birth, Jullia began noticing Kairan’s “intense” temperament: if she was reading to him and stopped, for example, Kairan would throw a tantrum that could only be quieted by listening to NPR. By age 2, he was speaking in full sentences, and his doctors realized his intellectual and emotional intelligence were off the charts.
They recommended he start preschool immediately. But on his first day — which happened to occur while the Arab Spring uprising was spreading across the globe — the teacher told his parents that there had been a problem.
“He got up and declared that school was boring. And then, he got all of his friends in the classroom to start marching, chanting: Free Egypt, democracy now,” said Jullia. “He was 2. We were dumbfounded.”
In the years since, Kairan has been qualified as “profoundly gifted,” with an IQ above the 99.9th percentile of the general population. Unlike many children with such intelligence levels, Kairan is also incredibly socially attuned, his mother said — although in kindergarten, he did make all the kids cry when he told them at recess that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad was wielding chemical weapons.
He was 5 years old.
“I think by third grade, it became painfully obvious to my teachers, parents and pediatrician that mainstream education wasn’t a great fit for my exponential learning abilities,” Kairan said in an interview on Tuesday.
By Kairan’s 10th birthday, the pediatrician told his parents that he needed to be on a more accelerated path. Jullia said she and Kairan’s dad, Mustahid, spent three days crying, wondering how they could convince a university that their third grader was equipped to enter their classrooms.
But despite the obstacles, the Quazis figured it out. Later that year, Kairan started at Las Positas, a community college in Livermore, and at age 10, he got an internship at Intel Labs as an AI research co-op fellow. By age 11, he transferred to Santa Clara University, where he focused on computer science and engineering.
And now, at age 14, Kairan is looking back on a college experience that he said were the happiest years of his life. He will graduate alongside nearly 1,600 other students on June 17.
While at Santa Clara, Kairan was a member of the Association for Computer Machinery, and served as senior senator in the Associated Student Government. The 14-year-old was tapped to tutor students, and soon became one of the most requested on the staff, he said matter of factly.
Ahmed Amer, Kairan’s academic advisor and an associate professor of computer science and engineering, said Kairan was a “delight to teach,” because he was constantly — and genuinely — ready to dig into the course material and ask insightful questions.
“When I first started (at Santa Clara University), people were really intrigued,” he said. “But after a few days, I think the novelty wore off…and I think a lot of them realized that I’m a pretty normal person.”
One of those students was Jordan Randleman, a 23-year-old master’s student specializing in computer science and engineering.
“At first, I thought: Wow, this dude is really short,” said Randleman. “But then I was like, wait no. This dude is 13 years old.”
Despite a nine-year age gap, Randleman and Kairan became fast friends. Randleman said Kairan feels like a peer, although he does hold back from talking about college parties and drinking. Other than that, their friendship feels totally normal, Randleman said. The older student isn’t surprised Kairan landed a job at SpaceX — a company that accepts only 0.2% of all job applicants, according to career website Zippia.
“If any person could nail it, it would undeniably be him,” said Randleman.
Even so, it wasn’t all easy, Kairan said. He applied for dozens of jobs throughout the year, a process that resulted in 95 rejections and just three full-time offers. Amer said he’d watched Kairan struggle with being taken seriously because of his age — and hopes that in the future, Kairan can continue realizing his potential without judgement from those around him.
“I always try to remember this phrase my mom says, which is: we’re always where we are supposed to be,” said Kairan.