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11-year-old graduates from Irvine Valley College


By Michele Gile

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    SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, California (KCAL/KCBS) — It’s a big week for Athena Elling. Not only will the 11-year-old be the youngest to graduate from Irvine Valley College, but she’s also taking the title from her big brother, who graduated last year days before his 12th birthday.

“I’m really excited about it because I get to beat my brother’s record and I get to finally beat him in a way that’s most meaningful to me because I’ve always been really competitive with him,” Elling said.

Elling lives in San Juan Capistrano with her parents, three siblings, chinchillas and chickens. She was inspired to attend college early like her brother, who’s now at UC Irvine.

Elling enrolled at Irvine Valley College at 9 years old.

“They always ask me if I’m a student there,” she said. “They’re always like are you a student here?”

Elling will graduate cum laude with an associate’s degree in liberal arts on Thursday. Cum Laude requires a GPA over 3.5.

“I had no idea she was ten at the time,” Associate Professor Andrew Levy said. “She was mature, inquisitive. She asked questions.”

Other professors said she inspired them with her work ethic.

“She’s inspiring to our colleagues because they see what can be possible if somebody comes into the classroom with that level of dedication and commitment and strong work ethic,” professor Melissa Knoll said. “She’s a model student.”

Despite her accomplishments, Elling and her mom said she’s definitely a kid still, goofing around any chance she can get.

She also loves Legoland, Disneyland and Taekwondo, where she just got her second-degree black belt. Elling is also into acting, modeling, guitar, music and of course, learning new things.

“Whatever our children liked, we always just kind of said do what you want as long as you are going to take it seriously,” Chow said.

Elling’s summer plans will be at Irvine Valley College. She’s enrolled for next semester, which starts next week. She hopes to earn two more AA degrees.

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