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Isaac Kearns-Montanez

Isaac Kearns-Montanez, age 16, is a senior at the University of Alabama. The student, who grew up in Napa, will graduate from college when he's just 17 years old.

Isaac Kearns-Montanez is not your average college student.

For one thing, he started college at age 11, when he enrolled at Solano Community College. The Napa native also took classes at Napa Valley College while a student at First Christian school and then St. Apollinaris school.

As a Napa Valley Independent Studies student, Isaac blazed through high school and college requirements simultaneously.

Now age 16, Isaac is a senior at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. By this spring — when he’s barely 17 — he’ll graduate. He will be the youngest to ever do so at the southern university, according to the school.

Next, Isaac will start law school, which he plans to complete by age 19.

“A lot of school always seemed like common sense to me,” said the young student. “I can remember the content (and) I was able to go through it very quickly,” he said modestly.

“He’s always had extremely high standards for himself,” said his father, David Montanez, who works in Napa in the mortgage industry.

When his son was in fifth grade, “he brought up the idea to start taking college courses,” said Montanez.

“I thought it was pretty crazy at the time,” his father admitted.

He worried there’d be too much of an age gap.

“But we enrolled him — one class per semester — and he started going to classes” after his regular school dismissed each day.

Accompanied by his mother, Jacqueline Hodges, or father, “We’d sit in on the classes (and) watch him and his interactions with other people,” Montanez said.

“He enjoyed the structure of college,” his dad realized.

His son is driven and self-motivated, said Montanez. “He knows he can accomplish a lot.”

“When I decide to do something, I go 100 percent,” Isaac said. “I just get rid of all distractions when I need to.”

With enough units to transfer to a four-year university, Isaac chose the University of Alabama.

The move was made much easier because Isaac lives in Alabama with his mother and stepfather, who also moved to the Tuscaloosa area.

His mother works for the university and his stepfather is in the military, said Isaac.

At the University of Alabama, Isaac is about to earn a degree in political science with a minor in public policy. His GPA is 4.0.

That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges. Isaac has dyslexia. While he’s had accommodations in the past – such as more time to take a test — he choose not to ask for such help at the university, even though “there definitely have been times when it’s been harder.”

The student said he welcomes challenges because they lead to a feeling of accomplishment.

Isaac said that when his fellow students find out his age, the response varies.

“They are usually quite amazed,” he said. “The fact that I’m 16 rarely is relevant. I just consider myself to be a normal college student.”

“I keep telling him, tell everybody how old you are,” said his father. “Let them know you’re still a minor. He says, ‘They all know dad.’”

Isaac said people sometimes ask if he’s a genius. He hasn’t taken an official IQ test. “Ultimately, IQ is something that I don’t really have control over.”

Asked to what he attributes his academic success and speed, Isaac said, “I just figured out how to get through the system early.”

Besides classes, Isaac said he participates in college activities. At Alabama, he was an intern at the education policy center, part of the honors college and joined a pre-law club. “I definitely fit in,” he said.

One thing that probably helped is that Isaac said he looks older than his age.

“I’m 6-1, and if I want I can grow out a beard,” he said.

His first choice for law school is Yale, he said. But he also plans to apply to Harvard, Stanford, the University of Alabama, possibly the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan, and others.

“Since I was in seventh and eighth grade, I was very interested in politics,” he said. In addition to recent changes in U.S. politics, “I especially find global events very interesting right now.”

Montanez is “extremely happy and proud,” of his son.

“Age doesn’t matter,” said his father. “He’s living proof.”

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.