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Spring Commencement: BioChem Grad Is Second Youngest to Ever Earn a UC Bachelor's Degree

This spring, Ismail Gunacar, 17, earns his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from UC's McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, making him the second-youngest to ever earn a UC baccalaureate degree.

Date: 4/21/2015
By: Kara Driscoll
Phone: (513) 556-6415
Photos By: Kara Driscoll
When Ismail Gunacar posed for his University of Cincinnati Bearcat Card photo, he had just celebrated his 13th birthday. His hair was perfectly spiked in the front, and a Nike shirt hung loose on his prepubescent frame.

This spring, he’ll graduate at 17 after earning a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences. He’ll be one of the youngest students to ever earn a degree from UC. According to available UC records, he is the second youngest to ever earn a bachelor's degree, second only to Darwin T. Turner, who graduated at 16. He is the youngest student to receive a bachelor of science.

“I guess I’ll just try and take it all in when I walk across the stage,” Gunacar said. “I think I’ll just really try to appreciate the moment.”

The college graduate—who won’t yet be able to vote or drink a celebratory alcoholic beverage alongside his peers—began his path to an exceptionally early degree even before he got his Bearcat card.

When he was 12, Gunacar studied hard and earned his way into Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO), now known College Credit Plus. PSEO allows students to earn college credit while still in high school through enrollment in and successful completion of college-level courses.

That allowed Cincinnati native Gunacar, who was technically enrolled at Lakota West High School in West Chester Township, to spend most of his teens in classes at UC Blue Ash.

Ismail Gunacar, a biochemistry student in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences, will graduate this Spring at age 17.

The campus quickly became his second home. Because he couldn’t leave campus without a driver’s license, he grew to love hanging out on campus. The intimidation of being the youngest student in every class soon faded, he said.

“I spent an equal amount of time at school as I did at home,” Gunacar said. “Once other students found out how young I was, it kind of became a source of popularity. A lot of students adopted me as a little brother.”

Gunacar doesn’t do anything halfway. As soon as he became a Bearcat, he immersed himself in UC culture and spirit. The bilingual Gunacar—he is fluent in Turkish and English—restarted the Spanish Club at UC Blue Ash and started tutoring in his spare time. His passion for community involvement runs deep. He also visits hospital patients at TriHealth-owned hospitals.

“I get to connect with patients who might be having a hard time with an illness or diagnoses,” he said. “There’s times where I’ll sit down and have just a really authentic conversation with a patient, and I can tell it brightens their day to have someone to talk to.”

For his senior year, Gunacar he was accepted into the prestigious UC Honors Program and settled in on Main Campus. For one of his five Honors experiences he completed this year, he works as a student researcher in a laboratory for biochemistry and microbiology. He hopes that a paper he co-authored will be published this summer, he said.

His creative outlets include coding and designing websites, including his own, which features his version of a “Draw My Life” video called “Draw My (College) Life.”

Though his achievements are exceptional, Gunacar said he’s really not so different from more traditional college students. He’s mastered the art of procrastination, for example. He enjoys cooking Chinese food and binge-watching The Walking Dead. He likes to hang out with his friends in the Honors lounge in Swift and enjoyed attending ONO Fest this spring.

Taller and wearing a crisp button-down shirt, Gunacar has clearly outgrown his Bearcat ID photo. When he walks down MainStreet this year, he blends in with other students. His face, covered in stubbly facial hair, lights up with passion each time he talks about his graduation.

“I feel comfortable here,” he said. “I feel so grateful the experiences I’ve had here. The mentors I’ve had along the way, and the supportive professors – it’s just been tremendous.”

Gunacar started taking classes at the University of Cincinnati at age 13.

Gunacar plans on attending medical school after taking a year off to travel and spend time in Turkey, where he has family roots. Maybe he’ll start a non-profit with a friend. Maybe he’ll simply soak up more of what the world has to offer and bring that back to his medical studies. UC’s College of Medicine, he said, is his top choice.
“I wouldn’t change anything. I’m proud and glad I’m graduating now,” he said. “But this is the first year that my classmates are my age, and I’ve made amazing friends this year. It sucks to be leaving them.”

For now, he wants to experience as much as possible in the next couple weeks at his soon-to-be alma mater. And chances are more than likely he’ll return. Both his younger sister and brother are already earning college credits at UC.