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UCLA Magazine Winter 2003
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Winter 2003
The Littlest Bruin
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Catherine on the bus with her father and sister, Juliet
Catherine's bus ride to campus with her father (accompanied by sister Juliet)

In fact, both girls do seem like remarkably normal kids. Yes, they are exquisitely bright, each in her own way — while Catherine's talents are in math and science, Juliet is more interested in history, art and philosophy. But they also love bickering as sisters do ("Sometimes it feels like World War III around here," Hackwood says) and spending time playing with their friends. Disneyland is a beloved haunt — Catherine chose three days at the Disneyland Hotel over a trip to the Galapagos Islands as her community college graduation present. Swimming, skating, baking, playing dress up and squirt-gun fights are favorite activities. Catherine collects Beanie Babies ("There's about four or five tubs of them out in the garage," she says), Barbie dolls ("I think there were 110 of them. Most of them don't have heads now") and Pokemon cards ("I have billions!").

"She's really sweet and thoughtful and she always tries to please everyone else and make them happy," says her best friend, Sarah Longsdon, who is 14 and has known Catherine since they were in Montessori school together. "Just hanging out at her house is really cool. She's an all-around great friend. She's just like a normal kid — except that she goes to college."

In Catherine's cluttered upstairs bedroom, the shelves are filled with Disney figurines and Nancy Drew mystery novels, which compete for space with mathematics and physics texts. Her favorite author of the moment is Madeleine L'Engle, whose books like A Wrinkle in Time, Many Waters and A Wind in the Door blend science, fantasy and spirituality. Stuffed animals, some wearing little UCLA shirts, are everywhere, but these seem actually to serve a higher purpose; Catherine often studies by sitting with her animals and teaching them the subjects she is learning.

"This is Gwendolyn Riemann Mole," she says, introducing one of her stuffed pets. "Her middle name is named after the Riemann Integral because I teach analysis to her in order to help memorize my theorems."

When she talks about a subject she "digs" — like the joys of Neopets, an online virtual-reality game, or Brainpop — Catherine gets all giggly and her words come streaming out in a nonstop rush and her hands fly around and she hardly seems to take a breath and her pale blue eyes shine behind small oval glasses. When a topic really excites her, she punctuates it by thrusting her right arm straight up into the air, transforming herself into a 5-foot 4-inch exclamation point.

"She's a kid," says Catherine's mother, with a smile. "She's in many ways a regular, normal kid."

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