Cendikiawan Suryaatmadja may not be able to legally buy a lottery ticket or vote yet, but the 17-year-old prodigy from the University of Waterloo has already completed her master’s degree in physics.
“It feels good. I’m very proud of it,” he humbly shared.
Suryaatmadja, originally from West Java, Indonesia, arrived in the Ontario city at the age of 12 to begin his post-secondary journey.
By age 16, he had successfully completed a bachelor’s degree in mathematical physics with a minor in pure mathematics.
Next month, he will attend his master’s degree graduation ceremony, as one of the three youngest master’s graduates in the university’s history. The other two were even younger than him.
“I hope by doing this I can encourage all young people to really strive for their potential,” he said.
Next fall – you guessed it – Suryaatmadja plans to pursue a doctorate in physics, specializing in quantum information.
“Fun” school experience
How did he do it?
“I really liked math at a young age,” Suryaatmadja said.
Ever since he remembered, he said, he would buy handfuls of educational books and math comics. He entered many math competitions and before he knew it, he had accelerated his high school education and was ready for further education.
Suryaatmadja said her university experience had been “fun”.
“Although my stature may be a bit unconventional, I don’t think I have any particular difficulty making friends,” he said, referring to his youth.
Socializing was quite easy, he said, as the people were welcoming and there was no shortage of school clubs to join.
“I particularly like to improvise.”
WATCH | Cendikiawan Suryaatmadja, then 12 years old, talks about his goals even at this young age:
Suryaatmadja said some people were shocked when they found out her age, but others were not so much.
“I think it’s because I look quite young,” he said. “I don’t think I’m treated any more specially than the other students. I’m glad that’s the case.”
Having the academic skills and personal motivation to complete a master’s degree at his age reflects an incredibly rare level of achievement.– Jeff Casello, University of Waterloo, on the achievements of Cendikiawan Suryaatmadja
When not studying, in class or at the improv club, Suryaatmadja is out having bubble tea with friends, watching TV or jogging.
The only thing he still clings to is Canada’s fickle weather.
“I’ll be honest. The weather can get a little boring. There are so many transitions: winter to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall.” Cendikiawan Suryaatmadja
‘Be whoever you want’
As you can imagine, the teachers and administration of Suryaatmadja are proud of her achievements.
“What [Suryaatmadja] did is truly remarkable. Having the academic skills and personal drive to complete your master’s degree at your age reflects an incredibly rare level of achievement,” Jeff Casello, associate vice president of graduate studies and postgraduate affairs, said in an emailed statement.
“I think all of us in the graduate community feel a sense of pride that he chose to study with us and that we played a small part in his success.”
Suryaatmadja insists that age is just a number and hopes to inspire other young people to pursue their dreams, whatever their age.
“For all the young people, if you’re really interested in something and you think it could help a lot of people, don’t be intimidated just because people doing the same thing are a lot older than you are.” he said
“I think you could be whatever you want, and the only thing that limits you is yourself.”