Best Friends Graduate From Kent State University at the Age of 18
Kent State University graduating senior Jameson Payne says his mom Bethany Payne loves to tell the story about how he could recite the periodic table of elements in chemistry when he was in the second grade.
Now his mom can tell people the story about how Payne and his best friend Benjamin Wales-McGrath are graduating from Kent State at the age of 18.
During Kent State’s spring 2022 commencement on May 14, Payne will earn his bachelor’s degree in integrative studies with concentrations in physics and political science. Wales-McGrath will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in cellular and molecular biology.
While their peers are preparing for high school graduation and their first year of college, Payne will be serving an internship at a Washington, D.C., law firm and Wales-McGrath will begin a Ph.D. program in the fall.
The best friends, who grew up within a stone’s throw of one another in a Twinsburg neighborhood, never dreamed they would be graduating simultaneously from college at such a young age.
“It’s definitely fulfilling and exhilarating to take college courses and to be graduating,” Wales-McGrath said. “I am excited to be starting a Ph.D. program in the fall at the University of Pennsylvania.”
Both Jameson and Wales-McGrath were participants in Kent State’s College Credit Plus program, which allows eligible students in the seventh through 12th grades to earn college credits at no or limited costs while enrolled in middle or high school.
Payne started his college journey at Kent State’s Twinsburg Academic Center the summer after the sixth grade. He was only 12 when he took his first college class. He wanted to take courses at Kent State because he felt the science courses in his school district were not particularly interesting.
When Payne walked into his first class at Kent State in 2017, a chemistry course, his instructor couldn’t believe he was a college student.
“My first professor called my name and I raised my hand, and he thought I was joking,” Payne said. “He actually thought I was someone’s kid. He didn’t buy that I was one of his students, but it took some getting used to for sure.”
Wales-McGrath took his first course at Kent State’s Twinsburg Academic Center in the eighth grade. He tested out of his middle school science classes.
The best friends went full time at the Kent Campus their ninth grade year. Payne didn’t have to compare college courses to high school classwork because he never stepped foot in his high school for a class.
“When I was younger, it was definitely a much bigger change of pace, going from middle school to a college-level workload,” Payne said. “It definitely took getting used to. I would say overall my experience is that it was manageable. It took time, but I wouldn't say it was terrible or extremely stressful.”
There were concerns that entering college so early would take a toll on Payne’s social life because he would not be able to socialize with his peer group. Payne recommends that anyone who goes down this path has a means by which to see their friends outside of school.
“I have a healthy social life,” Payne said. "I keep myself involved with my friend group through other means. I was extremely active in scouting up until last year. I saw them every single week and camped every month.”
During his college years, Payne also integrated himself with his college peers by living on campus. He is vice president of Kent State’s Chess Club, plays volleyball and is in a recreational soccer league. Wales-McGrath also participated in scouting with Payne as he commuted to the Kent Campus from his Twinsburg home.
Wales-McGrath has worked as a research assistant and is working on a research paper on how viral infections affect RNA editing in the brain.
After serving his internship this summer, Payne plans to remain in Washington, D.C., to attend law school.
He attributes his accelerated success to his parents support and encouragement.
“My mother and father never pushed me to achieve,” Payne said. “They have always encouraged me to achieve and enabled me to achieve.”
For more information about College Credit Plus, go to www.kent.edu/ccp.