Youth is served today at UMBC

Commencement: At 19, Ian Stucky is valedictorian of his class.

May 23, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Most of the time, Ian Stucky comes across as any other high-achieving college senior with a raft of successes behind him and countless more ahead.

Then, there are moments when the truth comes out -- like the cocktail reception for Rhodes Scholarship semifinalists where Stucky was too young to legally have wine.

Stucky, of Owings Mills, is the valedictorian at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's commencement today. He is the recipient of a $50,000-a-year Jack Kent Cooke scholarship that will pay all of his bills at William and Mary School of Law. He is a few credits shy from his master's degree in intercultural communications.

He is also 19 years old.

"I just moved through too quickly," Stucky says with a self-deprecating shrug. "I had no intention of going through so quickly."

Of Stucky's accomplishments, those who know him say, perhaps the most impressive is his ability to wear his academic stardom so comfortably. No hyper-driven whiz kid, Stucky presents himself as a well-adjusted, fairly typical young man -- even if the awards ceremonies of the past few weeks have had him wearing suits most days.

"He's so balanced and mature that you don't notice he's so young," said Thomas T. Field, director of the Center for Humanities at UMBC. "He doesn't give the impression of being pushed or being grasping. He's just doing it naturally -- he likes to keep busy."

That's putting it mildly. Stucky's rapid ascent of the academic ladder can be attributed partly to his aversion to unused free time. In the summer after his freshman year, he did an independent study to learn German. This summer, he will earn the final credits for his master's degree at a conflict resolution program in Monterrey, Mexico.

It also helps that he arrived at UMBC at 16, after exhausting the offerings at St. Paul's School in Brooklandville, which he attended for three years after skipping ninth grade.

A participant in UMBC's Humanities Scholars program, he intended to major in math but switched to modern languages and linguistics, with concentration in Spanish and German.

But he didn't find his calling until last summer, when he was one of a select group of students invited to an annual conflict-resolution conference in Caux, Switzerland. There, he played host to a trio of antagonists from Sierra Leone assembled to talk out their differences -- a deputy prime minister, a former president and a rebel leader.

Listening to the charismatic rebel leader (whose name Stucky can't divulge) present his side of the story showed Stucky how complex and fascinating international law can be.

"You have to be careful not to be beguiled by such people but at the same time not lose compassion," said Stucky. "Being able to see with the clarity that justice requires is a difficult task, but it needs to be fulfilled."

Not all of his time is taken up with such grand thoughts. He has spent much of his time at UMBC at the swimming pool, where he won several diving championships despite a physique that his coach, Vic Corbin, said is not ideal for the sport.

"Diving kept me humble," says Stucky. "It was a struggle."

Stucky plans to focus on international law and ethics at William and Mary, but doesn't know where his interests will take him after that. He is just glad that the Cooke scholarship will free him from taking an unappealing job to pay off loans.

At times, Stucky wonders whether he is missing anything by moving through the system so quickly. To make sure he didn't grow up too fast, he spent his undergraduate years living with his mother, whom he credits with urging him not to rush his academic career.

On the whole, though, Stucky is confident that his accelerated timetable has served him well.

"I'm 19, but I've had the experiences of someone a lot older," he says. "What I've gained has far outdone anything I would've missed."

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