Five majors in three years? No problem for USC star student

[image] When she’s not in class, Elizabeth Wilson often creates earrings for children suffering from cancer. The earrings, pictured here, inspire little girls to become princesses and feel valued even in the midst of pain.

By Josh Dawsey
Edited by Ryan Quinn

In 43 years of teaching business, associate dean Randy Folks has never seen a student graduate with five majors.

"Nowhere close," he said – until he met Elizabeth Wilson, a wunderkind from Georgetown who graduates this spring with five majors and a 3.99 GPA. It took her only three years.

Wilson was bored with 18 hours in her first semester and signed up for more. She has taken as much as 31 hours in a semester, which is 10 classes, or double that of an average student.

Other students say Wilson, who will graduate with degrees in international business, finance, marketing, management science and real estate, is the most dedicated classmate they've had. USC President Harris Pastides knows her by name, writes her congratulatory notes and invites her to USC events. Business Dean Hildy Teegen calls her a rare gem who inspires others and boosts recruitment for the business school, and Folks says she'll be a legend for years to come.

She's never missed a day of school. The valedictorian of Georgetown High School has never paid for a day of school either, garnering a full ride to USC and now another to pursue a doctorate in management at Northwestern University.

"We have a God-given gift to learn," Wilson said.

Other students say that on trips Wilson often stayed in her room to complete work instead of socializing. They admire her resume and resiliency but know little about her, often wondering why she dresses so formally to class every day. Several interviewed said they like her, and have taken several classes with her, yet they don't know much about her.

"I'm happiest when I'm learning something new," she said. "I've always been interested in anything and everything academia."

Research conducted by Robert Arkin, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University, says superachievers often are struggle to find contentment or happiness. His studies show they risk depression or feelings of failure, with many being pressured by their parents. Think "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua.

But Wilson said her parents never pressured her. She said she was the one, for instance, who wanted to visit colleges in the seventh grade. Wilson quickly chose USC as a high school sophomore despite entreaties from Harvard and others.

And she's no slouch when it comes to keeping up with the world; ask her about popular movies or music, and she can hold her own. She says she often has friends over to her dorm to watch modeling and cooking shows.

It all seems natural to her. Why don't others immerse themselves in every opportunity? Why would she party on the weekends? Why wouldn't she learn Swahili and Portuguese, major in five studies and wake up at 7 a.m. every day?

She says she's never wanted a day off, never wanted to lounge with cereal and cartoons with no thought of academia. Her essence is learning.

When Wilson enters a room, she gracefully approaches and greets you formally but friendly. She places her belongings on the floor carefully and sits directly facing you. Eye contact is seemingly always there.

Her words are measured and precise. She is organized, with notebooks and demarcations for every class. Professors say their encounters with her are friendly but very direct: she knows exactly the help she needs and spends little time on chitchat.

"She'd pull out her notes and tell me exactly what she needed help with," Folks said. "You can always tell that she'd already thought about it, looked at it and was prepared to ask a specific question."

Her mornings start with gospel music. Her life is filled with Scripture. Wilson's words flow when she talks about how Jesus Christ has inspired her to give back to the community in her free time

Across town, inside the children's cancer wing of Palmetto Richland, anxious parents hover as doctors diagnose and comfort weary children tortured with long bouts of cancer.

The staff awards simple mementos, a reminder that small glimmering moments of happiness can be found amid pain. Among the most popular are hundreds of sparkling earrings crafted by Wilson's nonprofit, Regalia for Hope.

She's also taught diabetes awareness lessons to inner-city, impoverished families and connected businesses with the Hispanic community.

She started Regalia for Hope after her mother, while visiting her cancer-stricken brother in a hospital, was stopped by a young patient. The little girl complimented Cynthia Wilson's earrings, which were made by Elizabeth Wilson as a present, and requested a pair.

So Wilson made hundreds of dangling pairs and donated them to hospitals in South Carolina and North Carolina.

"So little girls can know they are a princess and feel like royalty," she said.

At Palmetto Richland, they are given to children who complete a round of chemotherapy or lose their hair. Children peer into large plastic boxes, chock-full of Wilson's earrings.

Wilson has never seen the children choose the earrings, and when told about the encounter, she beams. The seriousness soon returns.

A couple of minutes later, her phone rings. It is a Northwestern admissions officer. The notepad comes out, and for 15 minutes she scribbles. The conversation, like Wilson, is measured and precise.

"Everything has aligned perfectly the way I needed it to," Wilson said. "God has blessed me tremendously. I have no regrets."

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