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CHICAGO -- Many students at the University have been called "a quick study," but entering graduate student Alkes Price may be the quickest of all. Price, a 16-year-old who graduated from the University of Chicago on Saturday, will begin pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University this fall. His life is full of early achievements, including his claim that at age nine, he became the youngest person ever to earn a perfect score of 800 on the mathematics portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test. "I can count on one hand the number of people I have seen at his level at this age," said Ted Chinburg, mathematics graduate group chairperson at the University, who will work with Price in the fall. "We are very lucky he chose to come to Penn." Not surprisingly, Price is spending his summer vacation doing what most 16-year-olds would never fathom doing -- he is conducting mathematical research for the U.S. Department of Defense in Washington, his mother said. For Price, working for the government at an age when most of his peers are just happy to be learning to drive is nothing new. All his life he has been a few steps ahead of the pack. Price has been besieged with interview requests from newspapers and did not return phone messages this week. But his mother, Dora Price, agreed to discuss her son's rapid achievements. Child prodigy It began simply enough. When Price was two, he took to picking out tunes on the family's grand piano by "crouching" over the keys, his mother said. The next year, she said, she hired a piano instructor to tutor her son. Understandably, the instructor initially said her son was too young to learn. "So the teacher stood in front of the piano -- so Alkes could not see the keys -- and each time he struck [a key] Alkes could tell him which it was," she added. "The [instructor] had tears in his eyes . . . and began the lessons." At age four, he took his brother's violin and began plucking out tunes. He soon started taking violin lessons in addition to the piano instruction. His musical interests continued growing and when he was six, he added a third instrument, the cornet. Price's mother said she can vividly remember her son's talent at composing music. "There was a rainy day when he was three that Alkes was composing on the piano by sitting on his knees so that he could reach the keys," she said. "It reminded me of Chopin's Raindrops' Prelude." Gifted student Price, whose family is Greek, attended first grade at a private school. He then entered the public school's second grade -- and began studying from a seventh grade math textbook. The following year, Price did not find elementary school "sufficiently challenging" and left to attend a school for gifted students, his mother said. The next fall, when he was eight, he returned to public school, this time spending half of his time in the eighth grade and the other half as a high school freshman. Two years later he began taking math courses at the University of Chicago, where he enrolled as a full-time undergraduate at the ripe old age of 12. His mother said she did not pressure either of her sons to accelerate their academic careers, saying that they actually begged her for permission. Price's older brother Morgan graduated from the University of Chicago when he was 15. "[Alkes] did not have any social problems at college," she added. "The University of Chicago is not a party school . . . . Alkes could participate in the conversation, so they did not mind his height." Price was elected secretary of the Commuter Students Union for two years and vice president for one. The organization has about 160 members. Future plans At the University, Price will live in an undergraduate house, according to Chinburg, so that he can pursue his graduate studies while living among students his own age. Chinburg added that Price has received a fellowship from the University, which includes full tuition and a stipend. Price's mother said her son chose the University because he was impressed with its academic program, its urban setting and the atmosphere. She said he liked the people he met here, particularly Chinburg.

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