Twelve-year-old girl becomes youngest university graduate in Canadian history
At the age of 12, Anthaea-Grace Patricia Dennis of the Ottawa Valley made history by becoming the youngest university graduate in Canadian history. On Saturday, she proudly donned her black graduation gown and walked onto the stage to receive an Honours Bachelor’s degree in biomedical science from the University of Ottawa (uOttawa). Her achievement is a testament to her extraordinary academic journey, which began when she took her first university class at the age of eight.
Anthaea-Grace’s relentless dedication and hard work have propelled her forward. Despite her young age, she firmly believes that she has earned these accolades and deserves to be where she is. Her remarkable progress can be attributed in large part to the guidance of her mother, Johanna Dennis, Ph.D., who taught her how to read at the age of two.
Johanna Dennis, who immigrated from Jamaica to Canada as a child and later to the United States, has been instrumental in shaping Anthaea-Grace’s educational path. At the age of three, Anthaea-Grace began taking lessons from a distance learning school. By the time she reached kindergarten and grade one, she was already tackling schoolwork from both levels simultaneously. At the age of four, she entered a public school for grade two while engaging in various extracurricular activities such as ice skating, musical theater, dancing, and swimming.
Anthaea-Grace’s enthusiasm for learning was insatiable. After coming home from school, she often requested to do more schoolwork, consistently working multiple grade levels ahead. When the family moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, at the age of six, Anthaea-Grace requested to be tested based on her abilities rather than her age and was assessed at a grade-eight level. The school district recommended homeschooling her, as they believed placing her in an inner-city eighth-grade class at such a young age would not be suitable.
Later that year, Dr. Dennis secured a job in San Francisco and found a private school that allowed parents to actively participate in their child’s curriculum development. At this school, Anthaea-Grace enrolled in college and university-level classes at the age of eight. However, when Dr. Dennis’ job ended and the pandemic forced classes to transition online, the family decided to return to Canada. They applied to have Anthaea-Grace’s university credits transferred to uOttawa, where she could pursue her passion for scientific research. Her family background in science, with her grandmother as a retired math teacher, her uncle as a physics professor, and her mother as a science graduate, influenced her choice to study biomedical science.
Throughout her final year at uOttawa, Anthaea-Grace focused on researching the functional connectivity in the cerebellum, particularly in relation to hand and wrist movements, inspired by her experience playing the violin. With her Bachelor’s degree in hand, she and her mother are now contemplating Master’s and Ph.D. programs as they look toward a career in academia, combining teaching and research.
Anthaea-Grace firmly believes that her youth is an advantage rather than an obstacle on her incredible journey. She rejects the notion that she has missed out on social interaction and is determined to make a difference through her research in the field of biomedical science. Her unwavering dedication and extraordinary achievements serve as an inspiration to all and now Patricia Dennis plans to attend postgraduate school.