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IT'S ACADEMIC 19 year-old eyes Ph.D. programs


George Matthew Webster sank back on the sofa in his Carroll County home and watched his mother and father lob the details of his life back and forth across the room.

. . . Entered St. John's Literary Institution at Prospect Hall at 12 . . . accepted to St. Mary's College on full honors scholarship at 16 . .

And now, at 19 years old, he has been offered a full scholarship to earn his Ph.D. at Princeton.

To him, it's all academic.

"Matthew takes everything in stride," said his father, Larry Webster, who works for an insurance company that specializes in supplementary care for the elderly. "He concentrates when he has to and does his work."

"Yeah, and usually the night before," added Matthew Webster, resorting to a characteristic smirk.

Young Mr. Webster's lively sense of humor removes some of the tension from talking -- or in his case, hearing -- about an extraordinary academic career that could culminate in 1998 when, at 23, he would receive a doctorate from Princeton University in international relations.

Already this year, U.S. News and World Report included Matthew Webster in its list of the nation's 128 "cream of the crop" students.

Mr. Webster doesn't talk about himself, choosing only the most objective terms to describe his tremendous educational feats.

But his parents are more than happy to weave the tale.

An early start

At 5, he entered the Montessori School in Westminster, but was moved to Mother Seton School in Emmitsburg a few weeks into the school year after testing above his expected level.

"He just wasn't challenged by the school work at his own level," said Linda Webster, his mother. "He started school a year earlier than he was supposed to since he was born in January."

While at Mother Seton, he and two others were taught an advanced curriculum. He skipped eighth grade to become a St. John's freshman.

"So here I was 12 in the ninth grade and, instead of being picked on, they treated me as an equal, and sometimes, a leader," Mr. Webster recalled his first year in high school. "Teachers gave me the attention I needed to help me adjust, and I did."

In 10th grade, Mr. Webster was accepted to a gifted and talented program at Johns Hopkins University. Using the courses he took there, he could have graduated from high school a year earlier.

Instead, he opted to stay at St. John's and finish high school in 1991 on time -- well, on time for him. He did take college courses at Hood College during his senior year.

Mr. Webster accepted a full scholarship for undergraduate study in political science at St. Mary's College after high school, although he said he would have preferred to go to Washington and Lee College in Lexington, Va.

One St. Mary's teacher, political science professor Jim Conrad, made Mr. Webster glad the Virginia college had not made a more lucrative offer.

"His class was the first time that I didn't just breeze through and get an 'A.' When I got that first test back and got a 'B,' I was shocked," Mr. Webster said.

"I went to talk to him about [the paper] and we discussed other things," Mr. Webster said. "I knew just by talking to him that he would be the one to make me live up to my potential."

Young Mr. Webster is an avid player of tennis and basketball -- reputed to have a mean hook shot from center court -- but his academic success attracts the attention. He credits his family and his upbringing.

Family encouragement

The 4-month-old Korean boy brought to America and adopted by Linda and Larry Webster -- "with a belly like a Buddha and a thatch of gleaming black hair" as he decribed himself in his personal statement to Princeton -- was encouraged with love by his family and friends to study, learn and achieve.

Mr. Webster said his parents have instilled the same things in his sisters.

Melanie Webster Ware, 30, is a first-grade teacher at Friendship Valley Elementary in Westminster; Sarah, 12, is a Mother Seton student who recently won her school's science fair and had her poetry accepted for publication in an anthology showcasing the work of young poets nationwide.

Even the endless stream of exchange students who have lived in the Keymar home over the years has worked to give Mr. Webster, a future professor/politician, a global perspective and an open mind.

Mr. Webster said "it is fairly likely" that he will accept the doctoral scholarship to Princeton.

But then again, Georgetown University, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are sending him offers. This week, he told a representative from Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Publications to take him off the list of six finalists for two scholarships the school was offering.

A picture in his bedroom mirror shows Mr. Webster as a 5-year-old with his dark hair fashioned around his rounded face, his arms extended to complete a muscle-man pose on a beach in Ocean City.

The grin on the face seems to shout, "Here I am!"

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