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Professor calls 13-year-old UPEI student Vivian Xie 'a prodigy'

Vivian Xie, 13, of Charlottetown is a first-year student at UPEI, setting her sights on becoming a veterinarian while still a teenager.
Vivian Xie, 13, of Charlottetown is a first-year student at UPEI, setting her sights on becoming a veterinarian while still a teenager. ©THE GUARDIAN - Jim Day

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - University is proving a piece of cake for 13-year-old Vivian Xie.

Vivian was actually just 12 when she started her studies at the University of Prince Edward Island in September – a month shy of becoming a teenager.

Her remarkably young age, though, appears to be no barrier to excelling in post-secondary education.

Her highest mark in the first semester was 95 per cent in biology. Her lowest was 91 per cent in chemistry. Her physics, anthropology and English marks fell somewhere between those two impressive grades.

“It’s not too challenging in university,’’ Vivian says matter-of-factly.

She is not boasting. She does not even consider her incredible grade-skipping life to be much of a big deal.

Others, however, are simply amazed by the academic exploits of this brilliant girl.

“I’m flabbergasted at her age,’’ says Shirlene O’Brien, who teaches Xie English 101 academic writing at UPEI.

“She’s a prodigy. There’s just no other way to put that.’’

O’Brien did not know at first that Vivian is several years younger than the other students in her course. The professor just assumed Vivian was 18 or 19.

“Just her demeanour and the way she speaks, the way she carries herself, she’s a very mature girl,’’ says O’Brien.

“She’s exceptional in very many ways.’’

Jerry Wang, director of recruitment with UPEI, believes Vivian is the youngest student by far to ever attend the university.

“She’s very determined…she works very hard and she has great family support,’’ says Wang.

“We are very proud of her, of course…we are so happy to see her flourish.’’


Did you know? UPEI has no minimum age requirement for undergraduate students.


Vivian propelled through 13 grades of school in just over half that many years.

She was already miles ahead of the pack academically when she entered kindergarten in China, having already learned Grade 3 math from her grandmother, who was a high school teacher.

The family moved to Charlottetown seven years ago, and Vivian proceeded to sleepwalk through Grade 1 and Grade 2 at Prince Street School.

“For Grade 3, I felt that I didn’t need to go through the trouble of going through the whole grade so I asked for permission to skip Grade 3,’’ she recalls.

She made the decision, not her parents.

As mom, who has simply taken Vivian’s incredible academic ability in stride, notes: “If she wants to learn, we just let her learn.’’

So Vivian was tested and allowed to skip Grade 3.

Click here to read a letter to the editor Vivian recently wrote to The Guardian

“I’m flabbergasted at her age ... She’s a prodigy. There’s just no other way to put that.’’
-Shirlene O’Brien

In Grade 5, she knew right away that “I would be bored’’ because she was performing at a much higher academic level.

Vivian tried to skip Grade 5 and 6 but her elementary school principal was not agreeable.

The principal felt there would be too much of an age gap socially.

A private school in Halifax felt otherwise after testing the star student.

Vivian was placed up three whole grades into Grade 8. All of a sudden, the girl was attending classes with students who were four years older.

Teachers at the private school knew just how young she was, but did not treat her differently. There was no need.

Vivian ended up taking Grade 8 and Grade 9 at the private school in Halifax before jumping into Grade 11 at Colonel Gray High School in Charlottetown in the International Baccalaureate program for academically gifted students.

She was a 10-year-old girl in Grade 11 with some students six years her senior. Yet she never felt even slight awkwardness being so much younger than her fellow classmates.

Nor does Vivian feel that she has missed out on her childhood by rocketing through school.

“Most of the time when I am at home, I’m still pretty childish,’’ she says.

“I still sleep with a stuffed animal…I don’t feel like I missed out that much.’’

The 13-year-old’s idea of leisure time is reading (“Alice in Wonderland” is her favourite book “because of the writing style’’), painting and playing the piano. She does not watch TV.

Vivian has never had a boyfriend and is not looking for one. She has what should be an effective response if a fellow university student were to ask her out.

“Well, the quickest way (to reject the offer) would probably be just to say ‘I’m 13,’ ’’ she says.

“It seems it would be annoying to have another person follow you around all the time.’’

Vivian has her sights set on becoming a veterinarian – a career goal she could achieve while still a teenager. That achievement does not strike her as exceptional.

O’Brien certainly has confidence Vivian can become a licensed vet before turning 20.

“I’ll take my horses to her, that’s my statement on that,’’ she says.

“I certainly hope nobody holds her back because of her age. That would be a terrible disservice to her and to her family.’’

Vivian, who has always been inspired by the business success of her father, is eager to start her own veterinary business on P.E.I. when she graduates.

If she does not get enough experience while going through the program at the Atlantic Veterinary College, she adds, she might work for another veterinarian for a year to learn the ropes before starting her own business.

She is, after all, a quick study.

Twitter.com/GuardianJimDay

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