News Channel

64 Years Apart and Learning Together as Bulls

USF’s youngest and one of its oldest students form an unlikely connection through USF astronomy course

Classmates William Maillis, 11 (left), and John Beeman, 75, listen to lecture in their Contemporary Thinking in Astronomy course.

When William Maillis walks in to his astronomy class, the University of South Florida undergraduate can’t help but stand out. At 11-years-old, he’s about a decade younger than a lot of his peers. His classmate, John Beeman, is equally as uncommon, but at 75, for the exact opposite reason.

More than 60 years separate the two students and while they come from very different places and are working toward very different goals, they’re both part of the boundless community that makes USF an extraordinary place to learn, work, live and grow.

“I was quite thrilled by the idea of having them both in class, especially as they have sat beside each other for most of the semester,” said USF instructor Kevin MacKay, PhD, who has the students in his Contemporary Thinking in Astronomy course.

“I have been teaching in higher education for 25 years and although I have had some students over 80, I have never had a student as young as 11 in a college class.”

Maillis is perhaps the youngest student to ever attend USF. According to his parents, he was doing basic math by the time he was two, learned algebra by four and was officially declared a genius when he was just five-years-old. While other kids his age are just starting middle school, Maillis is working toward a bachelor’s degree in astrophysics – taking courses like Stellar Astronomy & Cosmology, Calculus and Physics.

“Space is just cool,” he said. “And astrophysics, put simply, is the physics of space. How space works, how everything outside the Earth works, basically. I’ve just always been really interested in learning about that.”

Maillis expects to complete his bachelor’s degree by the time he’s 13. After that, he plans to continue his studies through a PhD program – something he hopes to earn by the time he’s old enough to vote.

75-year-old John Beeman says sitting in class next someone more than six decades younger has been a wonderful experience.

“I was amazed by William when I first met him in class,” he said. “To be so young and know so much, it’s incredible.”

A huge fan of USF Bulls football, Beaman has remained in the classroom long after receiving his bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2012. In fact, he says he plans to keep signing up for courses as long as he’s able to get around campus.

As a student with a disability, Beeman hopes to one day earn a master’s degree in special education and work with other students dealing with similar issues. Until then, he says he’s happy to be taking a variety of classes to stimulate his mind.

“The main reason I’m here is because I like to learn, and I like a challenge,” he said. “I don’t always do as well on the tests as I want to, but I never give up. No matter what, never give up.”

It’s a lesson he hopes to pass along to fellow classmates, including to the 11-year-old sitting nearby.

USF News is produced by University Communications and Marketing.

To submit content, please review our Editorial Plans.