STONECREST, Ga. - At a young age, Sydney Wilson showed a penchant for math and handling academic challenges.
The Georgia native was doing algebra when she was in first grade, and by the age of 10 she headed off to take on high-school level classes at The Wilson Academy, a private school in Stonecrest founded by her father.
Now at just 14 years old, Sydney will be taking on a new challenge by attending Spelman College in the fall as one of the youngest students on campus. Spelman, which is ranked as the No. 1 Historically Black College and University, was Sydney’s first and only choice since she was 8 years old.
“I had taken a college tour then and the women around me seemed so independent and strong. It really inspired me,” she said. “Now I’m really excited and nervous. It’s obviously something new for me, but the Spelman girls have been really nice and welcoming. I’m excited to see the experience I’ll have.”
Her father, Byron F. Wilson, said Sydney and her family attended another college exposition last year and she’d been offered scholarships and acceptances to other colleges based on the transcripts and information she brought. But he said she wasn’t ready to head off to college at 13.
“She continued to grow this year, and then we looked at it all and I said I think now she’s ready,” Byron said. “So we applied to Spelman and that was it. It was Spelman or nothing.”
The straight-A student worked hard to get into the Atlanta college.
While taking on the workload of college-prep and advanced placement classes, she took on the role of lead programmer for The Wilson Academy’s robotics team, became president of the rotary club for a few weeks before graduating, ran track for her school and played soccer for a nationally ranked club team. She was even the school’s mascot, Wakka the War Elephant.
Sydney finished top of her class as co-valedictorian and graduated with honors on May 18, just three days after she turned 14.
But Sydney didn’t just grow academically at The Wilson Academy, she also gained some emotional perspective.
She said being 10 years old while she was surrounded by 15-year-olds could affect her at times, especially when she’d be excluded from birthday parties and other social events.
“They didn’t want to have a 10-year-old at a 15th birthday,” she said.
But after spending enough time together, the students became more accepting of Sydney. She now has two best friends who will be graduating soon, she said.
“It was hard, but I just sort of came to understand that people aren’t going to be as accepting of me and I’ve come to be OK with the fact that people aren’t going to be as open-minded,” she said.
While it’s unclear if Sydney is the youngest student ever to attend Spelman, the vice president of enrollment management said Sydney is the youngest in recent memory.
“This is the first time in recent memory that we have had an admitted student this young. Sydney has shared with us that she intends to enroll. We are excited to welcome her to campus in the fall, along with the rest of the incoming class,” Ingrid Hayes said.
The class of 2023 student said she plans to major in biology, where she hopes to incorporate her love of animals and being outdoors into something special.
“I want to use animal science to try and solve human illnesses and ailments. I want to combine human anatomy and animal science to try and figure some things out,” she said.
Byron said while Spelman isn’t known for its biology program, the college works with the Morehouse School of Medicine as part of a program that can provide Sydney with hands-on experience.
“She has the opportunity to do real work, like hands-on work because of Morehouse. It’ll be part of getting her that real world experience,” he said.
Other real world experience includes living away from home. Sydney will move into on-campus housing in early August, where she’ll live in her dorm room during the week and return home to be with her family on the weekends.
She said the challenges she faced at The Wilson Academy helped shape her to have a positive outlook for her college experience.
“I know that some of the college-aged girls will think I’m so young, but I think that it won’t affect me because I’ve had those experiences in high school. Also, I have a more positive outlook because all the Spelman girls I’ve met so far have been so welcoming,” she said.
The private institution was founded in 1881 as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary and became Spelman College in 1924. It is the oldest HBCU for women in the country.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.