HOUSTON – While many teens are managing to get through high school, this 15-year-old boy will make history at Sam Houston State University by being its first youngest graduate.
Nehemiah Juniel, 15, will receive his bachelor’s degree in health sciences in August, making him the youngest student to ever graduate from the university.
Juniel said he’s always had an interest in learning, which led him to discover how to play the piano by ear, according to the university. At just 5 years old, he was doing pre-algebra and received his Associate of Arts degree at 13 years old.
“Words can’t express how proud we are of him,” Raphael Juniel, his father, said.
“Nehemiah was reading and writing at two. So, we always knew this kid was special,” Corie Juniel, his mother, said.
His parents always instilled the value of never giving up on all their children. Nehemiah grew up with six siblings and was homeschooled by his parents along with his sister, who will also graduate ahead of schedule from SHSU in the fall at 19 years old.
“The sky is the limit,” Corie said. “We never focused on what grade [Nehemiah] was in.”
They would teach him concepts. Nehemiah would set the pace, but his pace was really fast. They taught all their children, though, that attitude comes first.
“‘Can’t,’ was like a curse word in our house,” Raphael said. “That came from my grandfather.”
The family said that Sam Houston State University was an attractive choice because of their great efforts to work with the family.
“Financial aid spent hours with us to get Nehemiah’s award package worked out. They went the extra mile when speaking with the Federal Student Aid office, and were the most patient, resilient staff we’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” said Corie. “With my husband being a veteran, we used his Hazelwood benefits, and the Veterans Resource Center walked us through the process.”
Although he is naturally gifted in his learning ability, the teen said earning a college degree and maintaining good grades came with great challenges.
“The biggest challenge was staying focused. It was especially difficult when the course material was uninteresting or something I already knew,” Nehemiah said. “I often needed encouragement from others to put effort into such work before I put myself back on track again. My professors and teaching assistants were the most positive aspect of my experience at SHSU.”
He said he will soon start studying for the MCAT to pursue his dream of becoming a cardiologist.
“Around the age of 8 years old, I decided I wanted to become a surgeon of some sort,” Nehemiah said. “As I grew, I continued to change and specify what kind of career I wanted to pursue. This culminated in my decision to study cardiology.”
The university said the teen also hopes to inspire others to go after their dreams, as well, no matter their age.
“Don’t get discouraged if you run into a few issues or if you fail a couple of times. As long as you keep trying, you will eventually reach your goal,” Nehemiah said.
Now, his mother said, Nehemiah has to also learn to drive. He’s going places -- and fast.
“‘You have your permit! You need your license!’” Corie said while laughing.