VALLEY GLEN — The youngest student ever to enroll at Valley College will become its youngest graduate today, and will wonder, as she has for years, what all the fuss is about.
"It's not very unusual to me," said Kimberly Paige, 15, who will receive her Associate of Arts degree in liberal arts this afternoon, graduating summa cum laude. "To me, I'm just Kimberly. I just don't understand why it's such a big deal."
Since enrolling in 1994, Kimberly has earned a 3.89 grade-point-average--her only "B" grade given in an American history course her first year, taught by an instructor she chooses not to name.
She received the James Willett Memorial Scholarship from the college's history, humanities, law and political science departments, and the college president's Outstanding Leadership of Merit Award. Kimberly is also a member of the Tau Alpha Epsilon and Phi Theta Kappa honor societies.
All the while, Kimberly was busy establishing a successful acting career, making her film debut in 1997 as a young Sarah Jessica Parker in "Til There Was You." Later this year she will appear in the movie "Fly Paper" with Robert Loggia. She has also had guest spots on "Married With Children" and "In Living Color."
Raised in Palm Springs, Kimberly began attending an accelerated high school program at Calvert Street School in Woodland Hills when she was 7. Since 1990, the young prodigy's mother, Alicia Paige, has driven her daughter two hours each way five days a week.
Kimberly actually began her college career a semester before graduating from high school.
"We used to question when she was younger if we were doing the right thing; if she should be with her peers," Alicia Paige said. "We decided that as long as she was happy, she was ready to handle it. She's so bright she'd be so very bored if she wasn't where she is now."
The young Paige has managed to stay in touch with friends her age.
"I always find time for everything and I always find time for my friends," Kimberly said. "The only thing that is hard sometimes is when my high school friends ask me to tutor them."
Walking around the Valley College campus dressed in traditional college student attire--black toeless sandals, overalls, a black T-shirt, and carrying a backpack full of books--Kimberly was greeted warmly by older students.
"We love her here," said Armen Orujyan, who will become student body president in the fall.
"She's got a lot of energy and she's very outgoing," student Stefano Bloch said. "I don't think I would want to be that young and have a degree. I just wasn't ready."
Sometimes, Kimberly acknowledged, she might have fit in too well.
"Sometimes guys would ask me to go to a movie or something, and I'd tell them I'm only 13 or 14 and they would kind of back away," she said, blushing slightly.
"When I first started here I had to keep explaining to people why I was here when I was only 12," Kimberly added. "Now, it's like everyone I know is one big family. Everybody accepts me. I belong here."
Shortly after 4 p.m. today in the campus stadium, Kimberly will deliver one of two commencement speeches to be presented by students. Her topic: how technology is an extension of people.
She said she has not decided where to complete the 1 1/2 years of course work she needs for a bachelor's degree, but is considering several Southern California universities.
First, she plans to take a semester or two off to concentrate on acting.
"Acting. I know that's what I want to do," she said emphatically. "Acting is my job for life. I know that."
Kimberly has a script for the long-term, as well.
"When I grow up--which is a long time from now--I want to be married with three children, preferably girls," she said, "and with a summer house in Italy and Hawaii."
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Valley-area community colleges have graduation ceremonies this week. The schedule:
* Valley College: Today, 4 p.m., football stadium.
* Mission College: Today, 5 p.m., in front of multimedia center.
* Pierce College: Today, 6 p.m., Swisher Park.
* College of the Canyons: Friday, 6 p.m., football stadium.