The Southern University at Baton Rouge graduated more than 500 bright students Friday, but perhaps none shone brighter than Polite Stewart (pictured). One of the college’s youngest graduates ever, Stewart is being heralded as a rising star in the physics research field. The 18-year-old cum laude graduate first entered Southern in 2004, after having excelled in the college’s Timbuktu Academy, a college readiness program. “He shined like the rising sun,” Dr. Diola Bagayoko, director of the Timbuktu Academy and chairman of Southern University’s Physics Department said, according to Southern University.
Bagayoko continued singing Stewart’s praises, noting, “Last summer, Stewart worked at North Carolina State University as a researcher, and has worked at Texas Christian University.
“He’s made more than four technical presentations over his college career. Polite has distinguished himself as a researcher in a marvelous fashion. He is highly ethical and very hard working. When he’s among his peers, you feel humbled because even amid attention about his accomplishments and his age, he remains focused on trying hard to make himself and those around him better.”
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While at the Academy, Stewart easily mastered the curriculum and quickly began teaching high school students in science. Some of his pupils were nearly four years older than him.
Coming from a long line of college graduates (his parents and many relatives on his father’s side are also Southern alumni), Stewart was already conditioned to continue the family tradition. But his father knew he was ready for it back at the Academy.
“Things had gotten to the point where we noticed that he was a little faster in learning information,” said Polite Stewart Sr. “The Timbuktu Academy challenged him, pushed him, and he hung in there. And he enjoyed the experience.”
For Stewart, getting to this point took much worthy sacrifice.
“I didn’t go to all of the football and basketball games, but I was able to get the experience that I wanted,” he said. “I was able to enjoy everything, I made a lot of friends, and there were so many people today that wanted to congratulate me. I got to know people from every major at Southern, and that’s one of the things I like best about the university. It’s a community; it’s really like a family.”
Stewart claims his first physics class at Timbuktu was when he realized Southern was right for him. He singled out one particular teacher.
“Dr. Stephan McGuire was one of those people who really made me feel like I was in the right place. He tried to teach theory behind problems, equations and concepts. He was cordial, polite, tried to get us to the point of actually thinking. He was one of the few that try to take us to our limit and past that.”
So what’s next for this potential Einstein? Completing research projects at North Carolina State University and, of course, graduate school. There’s also the responsibility of using his talents and degree to make a difference.
“There are some serious changes that probably need to be made in the future, but I’ll be the graduate to fund the changes, not to just complain about them,” he said.