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The underaged undergrad

Class of 2017 student joined the ranks of UNH at age 16

By Phoebe McPherson, Managing Editor

Phoebe McPherson/Staff Claire FitzMorris sits on her bed, laughing along with her roommate Kira Kenney. FitzMorris started college when she was just 16-years-old after deciding to graduate from high school two years early.
Phoebe McPherson/Staff
Claire FitzMorris sits on her bed, laughing along with her roommate Kira Kenney. FitzMorris started college when she was just 16-years-old after deciding to graduate from high school two years early.

Remember turning 18, the fantastic feeling of adulthood — if only in our minds — being able to sign your life away, free from parental supervision?

Sophomore Claire FitzMorris still needs her parent’s signature every time that she watches a rated-R movie in class or goes on trips. She was recently rejected from a job at the mall. Her response to the campaigners on the streets Nov. 4: “I’m too young to vote.”

FitzMorris is 17-years-old, turning 18 in March. She’s a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire and originally thought about graduating next year. She reconsidered, deciding she’d be too young.

In conversation, you’d never know that she is underage.

At Breaking New Grounds, she wears a UNH Woodsides shirt and a green jacket. Her hair is in a bun and she carries around a blue Nalgene. She has a nose ring. Walking down the street, FitzMorris is your typical college student.

She is modest: She doesn’t tell many students about her age. Not because she’s worried of what people may think or how they’ll treat her, but instead because she doesn’t think much of it. But that doesn’t mean she’s soft-spoken or shy either, instead opening up about comical situations easily.

“She’s pretty humble,” said mother Barbara McCarthy. “She doesn’t toot her own horn.”

To her, being young (and exceptional) isn’t weird, isn’t fascinating and it isn’t anything out of the ordinary.

“Really, it’s not that cool,” FitzMorris said. “I don’t think it’s that interesting.

“What actually happened is that I finished my test early one day [in high school],” she said, explaining that students at her school needed books for free-reading whenever they finished assignments. According to FitzMorris, she didn’t have a book that day, and was “being annoying.”

“He [my teacher] gave me a handbook from the school … because he didn’t want to send me to the office,” she said.

By chance, the page she opened up to was about graduating early. FitzMorris was already young for her age, skipping the second grade after half a year.

“And I was like, ‘Huh, I didn’t know I could do that. I should get out of here faster,’” she said, continuing.

So she did.

At age 16, FitzMorris received her diploma from Newfound Regional High School and started her journey at UNH that fall.

“It wasn’t easy, I gotta tell you,” McCarthy said of her daughter leaving the house two years early. “We had rules. She was not allowed to go to school out-of-state.”

Living arrangements were tricky. She can’t sign a lease for an apartment, and when being placed in rooms, housing apparently worried about her young age.

“I was on the first floor of my dorm [last year],” she said. She lived in all-freshman dorm Alexander Hall. “I was 16, and they wanted to keep me kind of close to the hall director.”

But now, in her Haaland Hall dorm, she’s relaxed — she’s moved up to the third floor. In sweatpants and a red sweater, FitzMorris jokes about what her mother would say if she saw her, the friends in her room joining in on the conversation.

“She’s a lot of fun, she’s always laughing and happy,” said her roommate and friend from high school, freshman Kira Kenny.

In high school, FitzMorris took French and Spanish simultaneously every year. Her gift is languages. Currently she is majoring in linguistics and international affairs and attributed her passion as being another reason why she graduated early.

“I wanted to do languages, and I knew that from an early age,” she said. “I have a knack for languages, usually.”

FitzMorris is now in a 600-level Spanish class and beginners Arabic.

But the pressure is on when considering the family tree. The youngest of five, two of her siblings graduated early from high school. Her brother, the oldest, has a master’s degree and is working full-time in his field of study. He’s 25. Her sister, linguistics major, studied at New York University and graduated from high school as valedictorian. Another one of her sisters was class president with “tons of friends, a real social butterfly,” FitzMorris said.

“I think that, honestly, is why I graduated early,” she said on continuing the unwritten family competition.

Her mother, Barbara McCarthy agreed that her siblings influenced her.

“I think her being the fifth … made her more eager to achieve scholastically,” she said.

FitzMorris claims, though, she can be just as lazy as any other college student.

“I have absolutely no motivation,” she said, a fellow Netflix-lover.

But it is hard to believe when she has lofty goals. “I totally want to add more languages,” she said and hopes to study Italian, Chinese and re-learn French in the future.

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