Torrington Ford can’t legally drive a car, but he’s landed a plane. He could read and write before most kids his age knew how to spell their names. Thursday, he’ll graduate from Anne Arundel Community College — at age 15.
Before he heads off to Ohio State University in July, Torrington will be one of about 2,000 students to graduate from AACC this week — and indisputably the youngest. His college journey is three years in the making, more if you count from the day he jumped up and yelled at his mom in church.
A young Torrington, then about 12 years old, had been begging his mother and teacher Tarita to consider college when his pastor started preaching about defying a well-meaning parent if God is telling you to do something else.
“I was like ‘listen!’” Torrington said.
Torrington has been home-schooled his whole life, a decision Tarita made when he was two years old. An information systems professional at Fannie Mae, she left her job to start teaching her son because “that’s what I heard in my spirit,” Tarita said. But after a while, he started to get bored.
“I was offended!” Tarita said, laughing. “I stay up late, trying to bring the ‘wow factor’ to the curriculum and he says he’s bored.”
She wasn’t sure what to make of her son, asking to go to college before most kids know how to do long division. He was, after all, still taking high school classes. She tried taking the curriculum up a notch, but it still wasn’t good enough. The sermon that day convinced her to give it a try. Or at least let him take the placement test.
“I was prepared to take him out for ice cream after he failed the test,” Tarita said.
But, of course, Torrington didn’t fail. In fact, he tested into the credit classes. He enrolled in AACC at age 12, taking political science, college algebra and English.
And so began the ritual that dominated the next three years of Torrington’s life.
Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Torrington was a college student. At 7 a.m. Tarita served as an alarm clock. Groans. Breakfast. In the car and at AACC by about 8:30 a.m. Classes until about 3:30 p.m., unless there was a lab that day, and then classes lasted until 5:30 p.m. To beat the traffic, mother and son eat dinner and start homework in the college library.
Tuesdays and Thursdays, he was in high school, taking lessons from his lifelong teacher, his mom. He just passed all his finals and graduated from home school in a ceremony Saturday.
AACC became a “home away from home” he said, with help from his advisers, most notably Leon Thomas of the school’s Student Achievement and Success Program. He will graduate Thursday with a concentration in science after taking a slew of science credits, classes that finally challenged him.
“Physics — those two physics classes in one semester — phew,” Torrington said. “I would not advise that to anyone else.”
Not that Torrington doesn’t have time for fun. He plays basically every sport there is. Football, basketball, baseball, track. He played for the Bowie Bulldogs.
“If there’s not a challenge, he’s going to find a challenge,” Tarita said. “It’s always, like, man against machine. All day.”
He chose Ohio State in part because he’s been a Buckeyes fan since he was young — well, younger.
And then there’s the flying. He’s gotten so good at flight simulations, he was able to land a plane in 20 mph crosswinds and blistering cold, no problem.
He’s a natural, the pilot told Tarita. So, naturally, he’s going to study aviation engineering at Ohio State.
“When I was a kid, in general I would always look for stuff that moved like cars, planes, trains,” he said. “But when it came down to the specifics, if you put a car in front of me, a G.I. Joe action figure and a plane, you can take the car, the G.I. Joe figure and throw it across the room. I’m going to take the plane all day. Piloting is just a part of me.”
He, Tarita and their dog, Phoenix, will move to Columbus, Ohio, in July for summer bridge classes that will get Torrington ready for his fall courseload. The family will live just off campus, since Torrington is not old enough to live in the dorms. Tarita is working with the school to figure out how to schedule classes so Torrington will be best equipped to become a pilot when he graduates. He wants to fly commercial planes, but only 21-year-olds are legally allowed.
He figures he’ll start with cargo first.
In the meantime, Tarita, who made personal sacrifices so her son could reach his full potential, will be working on her book. She’s going to tell her life’s story, one about listening to God even if it means breaking with the plans she set for herself.
Tarita, for her part, can’t figure out how her son got to be so confident and driven. “I can’t figure out where he got this from,” she said, shaking her head while sitting next to him.
“You,” he said.
The Anne Arundel Community College graduation ceremony will be Thursday, May 24 at 7 p.m. on the athletics practice field at the Arnold campus. Guests are recommended to arrive at 6 p.m. Graduates should arrive at Jenkins Gymnasium at 5:30 p.m. to line up. There will be about 600 graduates walking at the Thursday ceremony. For more information, visit www.aacc.edu/commencement/