Aaron Reed turned some heads on his first day in a Shakespeare studies class at Rogue Community College.

Aaron Reed turned some heads on his first day in a Shakespeare studies class at Rogue Community College.

"Everyone was in a stunned silence," recalls his teacher, Verne Underwood.

"He clearly wasn't 18, not even close."

The 13-year-old Scenic Middle School student began taking classes at RCC last fall, when he was 12. With his sights set on brain surgery as a career, he's got a lot of schooling to get through, he says. Aaron wants to earn two years of college credit before he graduates from high school.

Aaron says the older students eventually adjusted to their pre-teen peer.

"The first day was kind of shocking to them," says Aaron, who this term is taking Shakespeare and Writing 121.

"You have to be able to join in the conversation and answer questions at a college level and I do. They understand what I'm talking about."

Before enrolling in RCC, Aaron aced the placement test, persuaded his parents (who resisted his college vision for a year) and obtained permission from his teachers at Scenic, who said he could handle the work.

"I always wanted to be a brain surgeon, ever since I saw it on TV," Aaron says. That was when he was 3, says his mother, Amy Reed. She says Aaron was carrying on conversations with adults at 15 months.

Aaron's favorite thing to do, bar none, is reading.

"I was doing English lit homework while working on my associate degree and Aaron would come over and help me with 'Beowulf,' when he was in sixth grade, telling me things that I didn't get about it," Reed says.

While most kids watch TV or play video games when they come home from school, Aaron picks up books.

He will read through the weekend, prompting his parents to "ground" him sometimes for reading too much, Reed says.

"To him it was a punishment. He moped," Reed says, laughing.

Gifted children are often seen as "different," but Aaron balances his life with 4-H, Boy Scouts, refereeing at soccer games and hanging out with pals his age.

Despite his tender years, Aaron seems to grasp most adult concepts whizzing around a college classroom, says his teacher.

"He's very easygoing, friendly and attentive," notes Underwood. When Aaron doesn't understand adult stuff, he will ask Underwood to explain.

During a recent class on "Hamlet," Underwood covered the title character's difficult issues with women, his mother's sexuality and his charge to Ophelia to "get thee to a nunnery," which some have suggested also meant a brothel in Elizabethan times.

Aaron knew what a nunnery was but not a brothel, and said he planned to find out from his teacher. When R-rated violence was slated in a class film, Underwood cleared Aaron's attendance with his parents. Aaron acknowledges the profanity in casual conversations at the college sometimes bothers him, and he exercises his freedom to walk away.

The choice for college at such a young age was Aaron's and, says his mother, it's his privilege to lose. He has to keep up his 4.0 grade point average and show the challenge isn't stressing him out in any way.

Aaron just turned in the first of three 1,250-word essays for his classes. The topic: his favorite magic spot around the house. His was under a willow tree in the backyard.

Asked if he's a genius, Aaron smiles. "No, I'm not a genius," he says. "I wouldn't be at middle school if I were. I would only come here."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.