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IUN’s Class of 2024: Receiving a degree at 15 years old

Future doctor Khaya Njumbe will be one of the youngest students in Indiana to receive a bachelor’s degree

Apr 30, 2024

A boy in a hoodie stands smiling. Indiana University Northwest 15-year-old graduate Khaya Njumbe stands inside Hawthorn Hall on campus.

Belinda and David Njumbe always knew their son, Khaya, was special.

Khaya will soon graduate from Indiana University Northwest with his bachelor’s degree in general studies. He already has three associate degrees and is pursuing his master’s and medical school.

His achievements are impressive. What’s even more impressive? He’s just 15 years old.

“I guess a lot of people would think that I’m surprised, didn’t think I was going to be able to do this,” Khaya said. “It’s pretty normal for me now because as far back as I can remember, that’s all I’ve known.”

Khaya’s educational prowess shined early.

At 13 months old, he was reciting words flashing on the screen from the Your Child Can Read! DVDs. In disbelief, Belinda called David to tell him. The two used flashcards, different images and even created their own flashcards to test Khaya.

But no matter what they did, Khaya recited the words — “car seat … elephant,” he said. At 2 years old, Khaya asked Belinda: “Isn’t it funny, Mommy, that ‘exit’ has an ‘X’? You would think it’s supposed to be a ‘Z.’”

Khaya’s curiosity led to leaps in his educational journey early in his life. Belinda homeschooled him for a few years, picking up advanced learning materials and watching her son fly through entire grade levels in a few months.

Khaya’s first school setting was when he attended a reading program at IU Northwest, which sparked his interest in one day attending IU.

“Since he was 4, he said this is the school he’s going to go to,” Belinda said.

The difficulty came when Khaya was ready for school. There was seemingly nowhere — at least nowhere that cost less than $10,000 for tuition each year — for Khaya to study.

“We can’t get him into any school,” David said. “He was either too advanced to be in a class or too young to be in a class. That’s the dilemma.”

Teachers also struggled to figure out what grade Khaya belonged in. He bounced around from school to school, even opting for an all-Chinese school — Khaya taught himself the language because he was fascinated with Bruce Lee (he’s also a second-degree black belt in taekwondo) — for some time.

But no school fit. Khaya wasn’t used to structure and had already taught himself most of what they tried to teach him.

“At no point in time would I say we had control of his program,” David said. “He ran his own program because just when you think he’s starting something, you give him a book, two days later he’d say, ‘I’m done.’”

Learning was a game for Khaya. His parents gave Khaya the resources and he did the rest. He watched videos and learned different educational content from sign language to the entire periodic table to piano and everything in between.

“I thought it was fun,” Khaya said. “I would just watch YouTube videos and then YouTube would recommend more educational content and I would just keep clicking to the next video, from video to video. And I would just remember it.”

If Khaya wants to learn something, he won’t stop until he does.

“I’ll say, ‘Go take a shower, go to bed,’” Belinda said. “He’ll go to bed, then I’ll hear the piano downstairs playing.

“It’s like something comes into him. When he clicks, he gets out of bed, he has to go and do that. If it’s a math problem, he will get up in the middle of the night and figure it out.”

Belinda said she’s caught Khaya speaking Chinese while sleeping. He also plays guitar, is a member of the Jesse White Tumbling Team and loves to read poetry from Langston Hughes and William Earnest Henley.

Khaya finally felt challenged, at least that he was learning something when he enrolled at Gary’s 21st Century Charter School. He jumped several grade levels within a year and began taking college classes at Ivy Tech Community College as an 11-year-old high school freshman.

He collected associate degrees in biology, liberal arts and general studies while taking one high school class to remain enrolled at 21st Century while beginning to pursue his bachelor’s degree.

Other students at the charter school take college courses and many have earned their associate degree before graduating from high school. But few have achieved what Khaya has.

Learn more about IU Northwest’s high school student programs

He started studying at IU Northwest when he was 12 years old, balancing online and in-person classes while maintaining his passions outside of school. It wasn’t always easy being the youngest one on campus — he’s been accused of having a fake school ID when playing basketball in the Savannah Gymnasium and mistook for a professor’s grandson while taking notes in a class.

A boy in a hoodie playing piano. Indiana University Northwest 15-year-old graduate, Khaya Njumbe, plays piano in the School of the Arts on campus.But, for the most part, Khaya felt right at home on campus, finding a piano to play to pass the time or hanging out with friends he knew growing up. While it’s hard to argue Khaya’s intelligence, IU Northwest did teach him things he couldn’t learn on his own.

He grew particularly close with one professor — Sociology and Anthropology Professor Jack Bloom — who talked to Khaya about his journeys to South Africa and the apartheid system. When receiving an award from Gary Mayor Eddie Melton, Khaya invited Bloom to the ceremony.

“Dr. Bloom made Khaya understand life, to see things to open his mind,” Belinda said. “He came home and said, ‘Wow, this professor really opened my mind to see why life is the way it is today.’

“He’s still learning.”

After Commencement, Khaya plans to find a master’s program in preparation for medical school, where he’ll pursue his lifelong goal of working in biomedical engineering.

“Right now I’m looking for graduate schools because I can’t enroll in medical school due to labor laws and all that since I’m still under 18,” Khaya said. If all goes well, Khaya will be done with medical school by the time he’s 22 years old.

Khaya has accomplished all the goals he set for himself thus far. There’s little doubt he can continue accomplishing whatever he puts his mind to. His story is still just beginning.

And, whatever his future holds, you can bet IU’s School of Medicine will be first on his list of preferred programs.

Read more about IUN’s Class of 2024

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