Durban - What better history could a top university maths graduate have than once being the kid who chose a maths book over a video game as a prize?
“My parents would say they knew when I was doing maths because I was always smiling,” Shimon Corcos told the Independent on Saturday.
Corcus has just graduated with a Bachelor of Science Honours in Mathematics summa cum laude, achieving a weighted average of 98.75% at UKZN. His research focus for his Honours was point-free topology (the study of frames or locales of open sets of topological spaces rather than the spaces themselves).
In Grade 2, he sat at the back of the class and worked on multiplication sums where both the factors had three or more digits, while the other children sat on the mat and read, he recalled.
Now, Corcos intends to become a lecturer.
He was diagnosed with autism spectrum at the age of five and enrolled in the autistic unit of a special school.
“I was a master at echolalia, not only from the shows I watched but also in daily conversation, so much so that I was quite convincing.
“However, my parents soon realised the echolalia was indicative of a speech impediment, and this, among other things, led to them seeking answers,” he said.
His autism diagnosis followed.
“After over a year (at the autistic unit), my parents felt that I needed to be given the same opportunities as a non-autistic child to grow both academically and socially,” he said.
So, he proceeded to mainstream Malvern Primary.
“I went from trying hard to find my place with my peers, to being the Dux of the school and to winning an award that I was really touched to have received, the Good Fellowship Award, and honoured to receive the Principal Award.”
And on that note, he states: “I tell my story because I hope it will reach many education departments and schools and encourage inclusion.
“While not an easy decision, my mom believed in my potential and decided to place me in the mainstream school,” he said.
While Corcos’s message to schools is for inclusion, he has encouraged pupils to pursue degrees in the sciences. So he told the St Benedict’s, Pinetown, prize-giving three years ago when he returned to his alma mater as guest of honour at prize-giving, his rocking hairstyle having grown back after all the schoolboy cuts.
While at school, he once considered a career in the theatre, playing the part of Shylock in a rendition of the Merchant of Venice in the Shakespeare Schools Festival at the Playhouse Theatre.
“I remember the first time stepping onto that black stage when we were blocking our scenes, stage lights covering the area, and it was such an exciting moment, one I had only dreamed of, it felt surreal,” he said.
In matric he was awarded St Benedict’s cultural floating trophy, perhaps a forerunner to the string of scholarships and awards to follow during his university years and his being immersed in point-free topology.
Point-free topology has applications in computer science, and the theory of lattices it is based on, can be used in astrophysics to model four-dimensional space-time.
The Independent on Saturday