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UCLA Magazine Winter 2003
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Winter 2003
The Littlest Bruin
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Catherine, her mother, her sister
Catherine's day starts with a hug

It is not unheard of for a student as young as Catherine to enter UCLA, but it is rare. In the 30 years that Gloria Nathanson '62, associate director of Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools, has been on campus, she can think of perhaps 50 very young students who have enrolled, usually in their early teens.

"We don't get very many, maybe one or two a year," she says. "The youngest I can recall was 11 years old."

What is most unusual about Catherine is that she entered UCLA not as a freshman, but as a junior transfer student. She received an A.A. degree in mathematics from Riverside Community College when she was 11, the youngest student ever to graduate from that school.

When students so young enter college it tends to attract national attention. In August, a 12-year-old who started medical school at the University of Chicago drew national headlines. (He had already graduated summa cum laude from Chicago's Loyola University.)

Catherine's parents are mindful of the pitfalls of having an exceptionally bright child — and Catherine is not their only one. Her younger sister, Juliet, is on the same trajectory; she is 10 and is expected to graduate from RCC in June and also hopes to transfer the following year to UCLA.

"I've read a lot about gifted children," Catherine's father, Gerardo Beni M.S. '72, Ph.D. '74, told the Riverside Press-Enterprise after his daughter graduated from RCC last year. "Many burn out. In other cases, the parents make them a showpiece, circus performers. Our main goal is for them to be good human beings."

Beni and his wife, Susan Hackwood, have worked to keep their children out of the limelight — they have deflected attention from Oprah Winfrey, People magazine, Geraldo Rivera and The Tonight Show — hoping to ensure them something of a normal childhood. (They agreed to participate in this story only if it were used solely for university purposes and would not be more broadly disseminated.)

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