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Huntington Beach 15-year-old graduates magna cum laude from UNLV

A boy wearing graduation robes shakes the hand of a faculty member on stage
Jack Rico, a 15-year-old from Huntington Beach, receives his diploma as he graduates from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Dec. 14.
(Ru Andrade)

At 15 years old, Huntington Beach resident Jack Rico looks young for his age.

He just accomplishes things that would usually be associated with people much older.

Jack graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Dec. 14. He studied history, then he made it, as the university says he’s one of the youngest graduates in its 64-year existence.

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And, oh yeah, he graduated a semester early.

“I felt very proud of myself,” he said. “It was a very long journey. When it came to an end, I was like, ‘Wow, I did this.’”

Jack already has five college degrees. He earned four associate’s degrees from Fullerton College, from which he graduated in 2020.

“At 11 years old, I didn’t want him to have to choose a major,” said Jack’s mother, Ru Andrade. “What if he changes his mind? He chose classes that counted in the most categories, which is why he graduated with four AA degrees.”

It was a smart way of doing things. Smart is par for the course for Jack, but then again, sports analogies don’t really work for him.

He would bring a book to sports practices growing up. Finally, he asked his parents if he had to keep going.

College classes were more his speed. Jack graduated from UNLV with a 3.78 GPA. He’s been home-schooled since third grade, much of the time along with his sister Julia, who is a year older.

A boy reads a book in a lounge chair by a pool
Jack Rico of Huntington Beach studies by the pool at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
(Ru Andrade)

Traditional school wasn’t working for Jack, so Andrade decided to try home-schooling. She’s known her son was special ever since he was 4 years old, when he asked to go to the White House for his birthday.

“I told him we could go if he learned all of the presidents, and he said OK,” Andrade recalled. “About a week later he came to me in tears. He said, ‘Mom, I lied. I already knew all of the presidents, but I memorized the vice presidents. Does that still count?’ I knew then that he was probably already smarter than me.”

Family vacations weren’t to tropical islands but places like Jerusalem and Italy, as well as across the United States. When Jack was 11, Andrade, who works as an athletic advisor at Fullerton College, heard that he could enroll at the campus if he passed an assessment exam.

Jack took just one class to start, world religions. Andrade sat in the back of the class on the first day — when the teacher brought up Santa Claus as a mythical figure in religion.

“I about died in my seat,” she said. “He turned around to look at me. We had not even had the Santa talk yet. Since then, we’ve had to have a lot of conversations maybe a little bit too early. But I thought it was important that he had heard about these things from me and had some type of knowledge about them, before they were just sprung on him.”

After graduating from Fullerton College as the COVID-19 pandemic started raging in spring of 2020, Jack chose to go to college in Nevada so he could still attend classes in person. The family would drive to Nevada each week, needing to commute back and forth so that Julia, a drummer, could participate in her band back in Southern California.

Andrade feels that her son is as well adjusted as possible. She knows that he’s a good brother to Julia, who is autistic, and he enjoys hanging out with several cousins who are around his age.

Andrade and Jack’s father, Rick Rico, bought him a PlayStation 5 video game console for Christmas.

A boy in red and black graduation robes on a college campus
Jack Rico, 15, earned his fifth college degree when he graduated with a bachelor’s degree from UNLV.
(Ru Andrade)

“He had the urge to get it at the beginning of December, but obviously he was going into finals and all his final papers,” said Rick Rico, a locomotive engineer who also lives in Huntington Beach. “He actually said, ‘You know what, we need to wait until after it’s done. I don’t want to be distracted.’ He’s a very humble kid and easy to please, so to ask for that, we knew he wanted it. We made sure that happened.

“Everyone’s first instinct is like, ‘You’re taking his childhood away.’ Absolutely not. He is still a child in my eyes. He’s smart and got all of these degrees, but at home he’s playing video games.”

Jack, who turns 16 in July, said he’s unsure how soon he will return to school. But he said he’d like to pursue a master’s degree. He enjoys writing screenplays in his spare time.

His parents have told him that it’s OK if he doesn’t enter the workforce right away, a rare moment of intervention.

“Could you imagine asking to speak to the manager somewhere, and a 15-year-old kid coming out?” Andrade said with a laugh.

Of course, she can imagine it. She wouldn’t put anything past her son, who has already accomplished so much in a short amount of time.

“I’ve enjoyed my childhood,” Jack said. “I know that I didn’t get the traditional experience of middle school and high school, but I feel like my family and my parents kind of made up that part. I have a social life. I don’t really feel like I missed out that much.”


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