Top UCT achiever graduates at 19

Johannesburg – University of Cape Town (UCT) student Kialan Pillay has been described as a genius because of his exceptional intellectual ability.

The 19-year-old is the youngest first-class computer science and mathematical statistics student who will graduate with his bachelor’s degree.

Pillay said because he has a photographic memory, he does not have to sit for hours on end studying, which he finds to be a boring task.

“That doesn’t mean I didn’t put in the work. I need to be stimulated constantly,” he said.

Reading for his honours degree in computer science, the Durban-born teenager said he was already reading Harry Potter novels when his peers in grade 1 were starting to sound out words.

He could read at the age of two. Born to parents who are university professors, he said though they noticed his remarkable abilities at a young age, they did not put extra pressure on him.

Pillay added that he is saddened that his father, who died of leukaemia in December, would not see him graduate.

In primary school, his principal told his parents that he was bored in class and, as a result, he was promoted from grade 2 to grade 5.

At 10 years old, he started high school at Eden College in Durban and was the top matriculant in KwaZulu-Natal at just 15 years old.

He said his age did not hinder him from attending classes with older children.

“There may have been minor bullying issues in primary school, but that didn’t last long. I found that I was and am still able to relate to people older than me.” In fact, he said, he has a girlfriend two years older than him.

“We study together and she is my research partner. Many times she says she’d swear I was older,” jokes Pillay.

Pillay said his mother made him take a gap year after completing high school.

“I’m glad I took the gap year because I got to travel with my mom to academic conferences. I was able to see 26 countries. I also taught myself first-year maths in that year.”

He also played at a few concerts as he is an advanced piano musician and can also play the violin.

“Another thing that keeps me busy is Lego, my friends think I’m crazy because of the amount of money I spend on these pieces, but I thoroughly enjoy building and collecting.”

His goal is to study further at Oxford or Cambridge University in the field of computer science.

He said this was his chosen field because at the age of 11, he had completed building a game in the Scratch programming language during an information technology lesson.

“At that moment, I decided that this is what I’d like to spend my life doing. I’ve been fascinated by artificial intelligence and its applications for several years.

“In our increasingly globalised, automated and digital society computer scientists have the opportunity to impact society in a multitude of contexts.”

The University of Pretoria also reported that in May, 18-yearold Hjalmar Rall, who registered as a student when he was 14, graduated cum laude with a BSc honours in physics.

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