A month shy of his 16th birthday, Ty Hobson-Powell made history Sunday when he walked across the stage at The Lyric as the youngest person ever to graduate from the University of Baltimore.
Hobson-Powell gave up a fledgling basketball career when he began college three years ago, commuted more than an hour each way from his home in Northwest Washington after transferring last fall from Howard University and once completed 27 credits in a single semester while shuttling between classes at Howard, Montgomery College and the Internet. He will be going to law school in the fall, and possibly to medical school after that.
But Hobson-Powell shatters the stereotype of the socially challenged brainiac who has little interest in the world outside academia. He's also not a straight-A student.
"He's twittering too much and playing basketball too much to get a perfect 4.0" grade point average, Dr. Edwin Powell, who teaches at Howard's medical school, said of the second of his four children.
Hobson-Powell wound up at UB by accident, by passing a booth at Howard promoting the UB law school. When he found out that the school offered an interdisciplinary undergraduate degree in public policy, history and psychology, he told his parents he was going to spend his senior year in Baltimore.
"I wanted to go ahead and pursue an education that best exemplified me," Hobson-Powell said as he waited for the procession of 625 graduates to begin. "I have more than just one interest."
While he still hangs out with his high school-age friends back in Washington, Hobson-Powell seems comfortable around his counterparts at a school which only four years ago reintroduced a freshman class and whose average graduates tend to be in their late 20s or older.
Hobson-Powell, who started kindergarten when he was "3 or 4," said that being around older students "is nothing out of the ordinary. "The social interaction is fine — I can interact with 15-year olds as much as I can interact with 21-year-olds or 30-year-olds or older. I've been taught to be comfortable in any social setting that I'm in."
Daniel Katz, a 23-year-old from Owings Mills, said that he met Hobson-Powell in a senior seminar.
"I was struck by how brilliant he was," said Katz, who graduated Sunday cum laude. "Academically as well as his character, he's mature on all different levels. A very interesting person, very modest. As intellectually and socially smart as he is brilliant, he's very down to earth."
That was part of the way Powell and his wife, Liz Hobson, an officer for the U.S. Public Health Service, have raised their four children. Their oldest child, Latoya, graduated from Fordham when she was 19 and is now an investigator for the Food and Drug Administration. They have already taken their 11-year-old daughter, Reid, an aspiring artist, to the Louvre.
"He really doesn't want to be considered a prodigy," Powell said of his son as he sat in a balcony section with some of the 120 family members and friends who came to town for UB's 111th graduation. "He says, 'I'm just blessed.' He's blessed with a talent, and he took advantage of it."
Hobson-Powell said that it hasn't been difficult to balance his life as a teenager with that of an academic prodigy.
"Surprisingly, it doesn't take that much effort," he said. "This gift that I've been given, it's sort of natural so I don't have to do too much work. Being a 15-year-old just comes naturally to me."
Aside from picking a law school — he's been accepted at Howard, William & Mary and North Carolina Central — the next big decision for Hobson-Powell will be when to get his driver's license. He turns 16 on June 17.
"I'm going to have to take some driving lessons," he said. "I'll get the written test memorized."
Hobson-Powell is also a huge college basketball fan whose favorite team is the University of Kentucky, which has been known recently for keeping its star players only one year before they graduate to the NBA. Just about the only disappointment in graduating high school early for Hobson-Powell was giving up his childhood dream of playing college basketball.
"Being that I'm done with college, I guess it's too late," he said with a smile.