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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

At 12, Russia's Freshest College Boy

Like any self-respecting 12-year-old, Daniil Lantukhov clams up when you ask him about his academic career. He sinks down in his chair with the pained look of a boy pushed too far by adult curiosity. He glances around for an escape route. Then he starts talking about cybernetics. His tolerance is being pushed to its limits this week, as he prepares to graduate from high school five years ahead of schedule and enter Moscow State University as Russia's youngest freshman. But Daniil -- who completed the eighth grade at home during two summer months when he was 10 -- is accustomed to being treated as a phenomenon. "I've gotten used to it, somehow," he said, sitting in the principal's office of his school in southeast Moscow. "Gradually, I have stopped noticing the age difference so much. But it was pretty hard when I was in the third grade." Before he found Lyceum No. 483, Daniil had switched schools six times, and finally just refused to attend. He was lucky to find the lyceum, a state school where he has studied for two years in a program for prodigies. His graduating class includes five boys and three girls whose ages range from 14 to 16 -- students who were frustrated and unhappy in regular schools. The prodigy program began with Savely Kosenko, who was admitted to the school's fifth grade when he was only 6 years old. He graduated at the age of 10 and entered Moscow's Bauman Technical Institute. The story of Kosenko's education attracted families like the Lantukhovs, who were eager to find a place for their children to socialize without losing ground academically. The school emphasizes psychological development, which sometimes falls by the wayside when a child has unusual abilities, said Tatyana Khrumova, the lyceum's principal. The danger for prodigies is that they never learn to socialize, she said. "They can understand math, but it's sometimes hard for them to understand ordinary children. Why would they? They're reading 'War and Peace.'" Ira Lantukhova, who works as a tour guide, first recognized her son's abilities when he was 2 1/2, and she realized that he was learning to spell. At 3, he was reading simple books and began inventing code alphabets. Through his childhood, he showed a facility for counting. "We would go to the store, where the cashiers add up the prices on calculators, and he would never say anything," she recalled. "But when we walked away, he would say, 'Well, they're close enough. Maybe 30 kopeks more.'" She said the lyceum's program is a boon to prodigies and their parents -- for whom an exceptional child is both a gift and a grave responsibility. "It amazes me. On the one hand, he is able to discuss very serious things, and then every now and then he is back to the age of five or six," she said. As far as the long-term future is concerned, Daniil has few plans beyond a graduate degree. "He is just 12. He hardly realizes what he is yet." For now, he will focus on plowing through the curriculum of Moscow State University. Daniil took a mathematical examination at the university's automotive science institute in May. When he arrived to take the test, in a room full of first-year students, the proctor took one look at him and dismissed him as a hooligan. Daniil explained that he was from the lyceum and sat down to take the two-hour test. He finished in 55 minutes. "They checked his answers and he got every question right," said principal Khrumova. "The entire auditorium stood and applauded him." She turned to the boy. "Were you proud of yourself, Danny?" "I was happy," he said, cracking the first smile of the day. "I was just glad to be done.