Karim Al-Zahabbi: 12 years old and on fast-track to college


Ana Miyares Photography

Karim Al-Zahabbi is an academic genius and a musical prodigy.

Camille Grant, Staffer

Like many other seniors, Karim Al-Zahabbi is applying to college: taking the SATs, getting recommendations, and writing essays. But unlike his peers, it’s literally illegal (per internet privacy policies) for him to fill out an online application — he’s 12.

At 2 or 3, young Karim was taught how to read and do math by his parents, despite neither being native English speakers. His mother, Eloise, a violin teacher, emigrated from Italy; his father emigrated from Syria. Math is a universal language, Karim explained, so they were able to teach him quite young. Karim’s two siblings’ early childhood educations were structured similarly: his sister, 7, is in third grade, and his brother, 9, is in the sixth.

The year Karim entered kindergarten, he was advanced enough to jump to the fourth grade. His parents wanted Karim to be challenged, but they also valued normalcy and social interaction. So when various gifted children’s programs came knocking, they turned them down, instead choosing to send Karim to elementary school. At this point, Karim was living in Stickney, having recently moved there from River Forest.

When Karim finished the fourth grade, he returned to River Forest. He intended to enter fifth grade at Roosevelt. His parents had to argue with the administration, and he had to undergo a lot of testing. The principal of Roosevelt was very kind, and eventually, they relented. “They said, ‘If you can keep your grades up, you can stay,’” Karim remembered.

At Roosevelt, he ended up doing so well he skipped the seventh grade. He found his way at age 9 to OPRF.

Now,  at 12, Karim has finished up all of the math department’s offerings. Karim spends two hours a day practicing the violin, which isn’t atypical, but certainly an exhibition of his dedication and perseverance. He goes to Islamic school on Friday afternoons and goes to Concordia University for robotics camp. To unwind, Karim watches Science Youtubers, Vsauce, whatever. . “I watch everything,” he murmured, a glint in his eye.

Ana Miyares Photography
Karim Al-Zahabbi is an academic genius and a musical prodigy.