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18-year-old will earn computing degree at Saturday's commencement

  • student with glasses, computer keyboard superimposed over his face

Posted on December 05, 2019

Alec Betancourt will participate in the fall commencement ceremony December 7 at Van Andel Arena, earning a bachelor’s degree in computing and information systems. 

He is 18 years old. 

Betancourt said he always knew he wanted to finish school early. He completed seventh and eighth grade as a homeschool student, then started high school in the Forest Hills Public Schools district at age 12.

"I found out pretty young that I was not a fan of school," Betancourt said. "My thought was to either put in extra years doing this or get it done early. I had a little fire under me, so to speak."

Aside from standing out academically, Betancourt has many hobbies, including playing the guitar and drums, cooking and coding. Coding became more than just a hobby when he decided his major would be computer science.

"I started coding when I was really young," he said. "I picked up Java and C. I was generally pretty familiar with computers."

By taking Advanced Placement courses, then dual-enrollment courses through Grand Rapids Community College, Betancourt earned a diploma from Forest Hills Central High School when he was 15 years old. By 16, he earned an associate's degree from GRCC and was a first-year student at Grand Valley, living on his own.

His senior computing internship last summer took him to Toledo, Ohio, where he helped with data and analytics for Owens Corning, a Fortune 500 company.

"I started searching for internships at the career fair and I got the offer the next day," Betancourt said. "So it was kind of one of those things I couldn’t really turn down."

After graduation, Betancourt’s next adventure will be leaving for the U.S. Army's infantry and airborne training on December 30.

"It's kind of the family business," he said. "Both my mom and my dad were officers. My granddad came to this country from Colombia and two months later got a draft notice in the mail. He got drafted on a residency visa. My great-granddad was in the Colombian Army — uncles, aunts, cousins, you name it."

And while his accomplishments deserve to be recognized, Betancourt insists he is just like any other student who aspires to earn a college degree.

"I think people look at my life and put it on a pedestal," he said. "Really, I think it's a little more boring. I have all the same hobbies, trials, tribulations and friends as any other person. I think my life is a little more normal than people would imagine."

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Commencement begins at 10 a.m. The event will be webcast; watch the live stream online at gvsu.edu/commencement.

The keynote speaker will be A.C. Grayling, an author, professor of philosophy, and the master of London's New College of the Humanities. 

Grayling was named the first master of New College, an independent undergraduate college, in 2011. The author of more than 30 books, Grayling also served as a columnist for theGuardianTimes, and Prospect magazine.

Grayling has served as judge for the Booker Prize, annually awarded to the best novel of the year published in the UK or Ireland. 

The student speaker will be Nina Nguyen, a graduating student who will receive a bachelor's degree in integrated science and education.

— written by Olivia Conaty, student writer