Everybody who knows Joey Gagliardo will tell you he's a smart kid, especially his mother, Maria.
"I knew he was special from the day the doctor brought him to me," Maria Gagliardo said. "On the day he was born he seemed to be watching my finger as I passed it in front of his eyes.' The doctor later told me I was right . . . that Joey was extremely alert."
Last Saturday, amid the cheerful clamor of friends and family, 15-year-old Joey Gagliardo of Largo graduated with honors from Prince George's County Community College. He skipped most of high school to begin college at age 12.
This fall, he will enroll as a full-time student at the University of Maryland where he hopes to earn two Bachelor of Arts degrees in political science and enconomics.
"Everybody will tell you, I've never been a kid," Joey said, twisting and untwisting the tassel of his mortar board. "As soon as I'm old enough to do something I'll go do it."
Age has never been an obstacle for Joey. At 14, he lobbied for a bill, recently passed by the state legislature, that allows qualified junior high students to attend college early. He has also addressed the Prince George's Board of Education on the importance of keeping foreign language programs in county schools.
Joey speaks german, French and Latin, and is teaching himself Italian.
His father, a civilian electrical engineer for the Navy, and his mother say that Joey seems to infect people with a lust for knowledge. After enrolling at PGCC, he convinced his mother to quit her job as a sales representative to attend school full-time as a marketing major.Because Joey does little studying -- he says he remembers almost everything he hears or reads -- he has time to help her with homework.
Joey's academic track record is impressive. He has received "some Bs," but last semester he graduated with As in all six courses, something he has never done before.
Maria explains that she feels more like Joey's friend than his mother. She is there when he is sick, or on the rare occassions when he needs discipline. But most of the time, they have a student-to-student relationship.
"He puts me up when I'm down. We motivate each other. It's competition, but in a creative way," Maria says.
While Joey admits he has never had a typical childhood, he said he does not feel deprived of joys of youth. Hard work now, he says, will pay off in the long run: "If I had had a childhood, I would have felt cheated in adulthhood."
When Maria and Joesph Gagliardo became aware of Joey's unusual aptitudes, they began looking for a suitable school. They found and enrolled him at St. Anselm's Abbey, a small, Catholic school with strict entrance requirements. Before St. Anselm's, he attended a parochial elementary school.
After 2 1/2 years at St. Anselm's, Joey spent "a few months" at Largo High School.
"There were only 30 in my class, but you really had to follow with the class. You couldn't go ahead," Joey recalls.
For that reason, he started taking classes at PGCC. He dropped out of high school, in part because Largo High school would not accept his college credits, and enrolled as a full time student at the college. He received his associate in arts and sciences from PGCC Saturday, although he still does not have, or need, a high school diploma.
Joey has made many friends and some useful connections in the academic community. In the fall, he will live at the home of University of Maryland President John Toll, where he will babysit for the president's two children, ages 5 and 7.
Deborah Toll, the president's wife, says she takes a strong interest in gifted children and hopes to see more students Joey's age enrolled at Maryland someday.
"We're just thrilled to have him," she said.
Andrew Rennie, "a close personal friend," and professor of psychology and counseling at PGCC, recalls meeting Joey in a hallway at school one day.
"I detected in him a strong spirit from the beginning," Rennie said, adding that Joey's keen perception makes him an ideal teacher for the blind students he tutors.
Rennie and others advised Joey to attend the state university, and the offer of a two-year scholarship sponsored by a delegate to the state legislature convinced him. Before that, he was looking at Ivy League colleges and other state schools.
Joey is also a gourmet cook and computer buff. For relaxation, he prefers being with younger children to participating in sports or playing music.
He does have friends his own age, however: "Most of my friends are from St. Anselm's and they're like me anyway."
Joey's younger brother, Michael, is a student at Kettering Junior High School where he takes some advanced classes. His father describes him as a "typical student."
Joey plans to go law school after undergraduate school, and then to work towards a Master of Business Administration degree.
"When I'm 30, I plan to be moving up the ladder. By 40, I'd like to be president of a major corporation," he said.
Whatever Joey decides, his parents and friends are convinced that he can do it.
"He became an adult fast, he took on responsibility right away," said Joseph Gagliardo. "His mother helped him knock down the obstacles, but he really did it all himself."