Pretoria – The boy who made history by enrolling at the University of Pretoria at just 14 years old is quite comfortable with people older than himself.
“I am used to this,” Hjalmar Rall said. “I am not nervous at all. I was forced to associate with older people as there were very few people of my age who shared my interests in my home town” (of Riebeek Kasteel in the Cape), he said in response to questions from the Pretoria News.
He started school at 6, but left after Grade 5 to follow the Cambridge curriculum. “Things just happened and I completed the work in time and wrote the necessary exams,” he said.
The Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education Curriculum is a two-year programme with exams set, marked and certificated from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.
As a result of his self-study, Hjalmar skipped Grades 6, 7, 8 and 9, but said the curriculum was exciting and enjoyable.
“I wrote Cambridge A levels, which is equivalent to Grade 13. It was not really tough; I worked for four hours a day and planned well. I even had nine weeks to work through past papers,” he said.
Hjalmar then wrote Grade 12 English and Afrikaans in 2015 and Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics at the end of last year.
He coped well with the work and obtained A's for Afrikaans and Physics, B's for Maths and Chemistry and a C for English.
Hjalmar then left the Western Cape to join Tuks, where he is registered this year for a BSc in Physics.
“I have always had an interest in physics and spent time gazing at the stars and discussing the universe and all the possibilities it held with my father."
Pretoria, he said, was chosen as the university that offered the best options in his field of interest: theoretical physics and astrophysics.
While still at school, Hjalmar said he was very active, studied hard and participated in swimming, cricket and chess.
While he was studying the Cambridge curriculum, Hjalmar was home-schooled and thus not exposed to much socialising.
“I did not have classmates and we stayed in a small town. All my mates from primary school left to attend boarding school,” he said.
But that was never a barrier for the young Hjalmar as he kept himself busy with his hobbies; photography, drawing, writing haiku (Japanese poetry) and researching for fun.
He said he was planning to continue being an active person at the university and was eager to begin extramural activities after he had familiarised himself with everything on campus.
“I haven’t decided what I’m going to participate in (at university); I first want to find my feet,” said Hjalmar.
He is the only child in his household and praised his parents for his upbringing. “My parents were there for me from the day I was born. My mom looked after me when I was young and taught me piano. My dad took over my schooling and we sat together every day for three years.”
His mother has a degree in music while his father had no formal academic qualification.
Hjalmar said he admired American theoretical physicist, futurist, and populariser of science, Michio Kaku, for making science accessible. “He makes science accessible,” he said. He also encountered Professor Anton Ströh at UP and said “he is really an inspiration".
“For someone like him to have an interest in me means a lot.”
When he graduates, Hjalmar will be just 17, younger than most first years.
He plans to continue studying because, ultimately he wants to get involved in research.