19-year-old graduates from BYU without high school diploma

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    By ALLISON BRINKERHOFF

    At BYU’s graduation ceremony in December, a 19-year-old received a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology.

    Sariah Kell, 19, from Contra Costa, Calif., applied to attend the 1996 Summer Term at BYU and was automatically admitted for Fall Semester, although Kell had not received her high school diploma.

    Upon admittance to BYU, Kell had already received 93 college credits from Contra Costa Community College.

    Kell was able to complete the credits by age 17 while attending a special middle-college high school.

    “High school was pretty easy for me. And I have always loved to learn and know as much as I can,” Kell said.

    “Sariah really wanted her high school diploma. It was just a fluke that she didn’t get it.”

    — Carol Barton, Sariah Kell’s mother

    Kell’s credits were accepted both at the college and high school levels.

    Kell said she had every intention of finishing the two classes needed to merit a high school diploma. She even contemplated turning down her admittance to BYU and reapplying at a later date but decided against it.

    “Sariah really wanted her high school diploma. It was just a fluke that she didn’t get it,” said Kell’s mother, Carol Barton.

    Kell has an interest in genetics which was sparked by her younger sister Elizabeth.

    “Elizabeth suffers from a rare genetic disorder called isovaleric academia. There are less than 100 cases in the world. She is vehemently allergic to meat of any kind. If she gets any in her system, it could cause permanent retardation or fatality,” Barton said.

    Kell was not aspiring to find a cure for Elizabeth, who is graduating with an associate’s degree at age 17 and may attend BYU in the fall. Rather, she desired to understand why and how this rarity occurred, Barton said.

    Kell comes from a family of gifted children, Barton said.

    “Ironically, of all of my four kids who took the gifted test to see if they were intellectually superior to other kids in their age level, Sariah was the only one who did not pass. I laugh about it now, although she doesn’t find it very funny,” Barton said.

    “Sariah has always been scholastically driven,” she said. “She has always gone the extra mile.”

    “Her first grade teacher commented that if she could dole out Sariah’s iniative to all her students, she’d be able to retire. Basically, Sariah has always taught herself,” Barton said.

    Kell said she is glad she chose BYU over her high school diploma.

    “I like the environment at BYU; that is part of the reason I am working here,” she said.

    Kell is a research technician under Leo Vernon, professor emeritus in chemistry and biochemistry who also had a daughter graduate at age 19.

    “Sariah catches on to the research protocol fairly quickly and she’s a hard worker. She’ll do well,” Vernon said.

    Although she has graduated, Kell is currently enrolled in two classes.

    “I am taking psychology and music appreciation. I wanted to take fun classes that I’ve never had a chance to take before,” Kell said.

    Kell said she does not want to end her education yet. She plans to work for a year before working toward both a master’s and a doctorate degree.

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