College of Engineering Home to Youngest LSU Graduate Ever

When James B. Smith arrived on campus last fall, he breathed a sigh of relief: Not only was it the beginning of his final year of college, but the 16-year-old had driven himself to class for the first time.

“When I was a junior, I got my learner’s permit, so I’d drive with my Dad in the car,” he recalled. “But my senior year was my first time to drive to class by myself. I was so nervous I would crash.”

James safely made it to class that day, and now, he’s made it through his undergraduate studies. Today, James will graduate Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He is the university’s youngest graduate ever.

After being homeschooled his entire life, James started LSU at age 13. A resident of Baton Rouge, he was familiar with the area and the campus, he said, but those first few months of transition came with surprises.

“Before my first day, we had gone through the campus to make sure I could make it to my classes on time and find all the rooms. I thought I knew my way around,” he said. “But I was going to my first class, which was freshmen biology, and when I went into the Cox Auditorium, I saw 900-something people in that class. It was pretty shocking. I made it through, though.”

Looking back, he said, his favorite college memories of LSU are linked to his classwork, faculty mentors and student involvement.

“Last year I took a class on interface design, which is where you try to make a user interface that is appealing and not hard to use,” he said. “It was taught by Chris Branton, who is my favorite professor here. He’s helped me out a lot. He’s been great.”

James was a member of the Association of Computing Machinery and was awarded three scholarships—the Dr. Steven Seiden Memorial Scholarship, the Leonel E. Tustison and Helen L. Tustison Scholarship, and the Chevron Scholarship in Computer Science.

“He came in with this ability to study and learn and pursue academic interests independently,” said Coretta Douglas, an undergraduate coordinator and instructor in the Division of Computer Science and Engineering, who helped advise James. “He melded in with everyone else. He’s a wonderful gentlemen and very mature.”

Corrina Smith, his mother, agreed. James is the oldest of eight children, she said, and he’s a “great example for the other kids.”

“This is exciting for us,” she said of his graduation. “It’s been a privilege to have him attend LSU, and we’re very proud of him.”

But ask him about his many accomplishments, and he’ll humbly tell you he’s just like any other student—he likes music, LSU Tiger Football, hanging out at the Student Union—just a bit younger.

“Sometimes I see people around, and they say, ‘I heard you’re 16, and you’re graduating from college,’” he said. “When I say, ‘Yeah,’ they just look at me like … ‘Whoa.’ But to me, that’s just the way it is.”

And just like every other student graduating this May, he’s ready to jumpstart his career. “I’m looking for jobs right now,” he said of his post-graduation plans. “I guess we’ll see what God has in store.”