By RACHEL OHM , Knoxville News Sentinel
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — At 17, Kristina Kravchenko finds nothing unusual about the fact that she will be graduating this month with a bachelor's degree as one of the youngest-ever graduates from the University of Tennessee Knoxville.
That's because in the Kravchenko family, graduating from college as a teenager is not unusual.
Kravchenko, whom the university confirmed is one of their youngest-ever graduates, follows in the footsteps of an older sister who graduated from the University of Florida at 18 and an older brother who graduated from UT at 19. Among the seven siblings, a fourth child also started college around age 14, though he did not graduate.
"My sister started it and some of my other siblings did it, so I was like, 'I might as well do it too,'" said Kravchenko, who lives in Halls.
More than 4,000 students are scheduled to receive diplomas from UT over three days starting on Thursday.
Kravchenko will join her 23-year-old brother, an electrical engineering major who will also graduate this week, in embarking on a new journey putting their education to use. But unlike so many others, she will enter the world while many students her age are preparing to go to college — something she started at age 13.
She's also one of the top two students in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.
"I'm glad I did it this way. Getting done earlier, you're able to get out there earlier," said Kravchenko, who has her sights set on attending veterinary school after taking a year off to work.
The daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, Kravchenko, like most of her siblings, was home-schooled for most of her childhood. She started taking college courses at Roane State Community College at age 13 before enrolling full-time at UT at 15.
Her father, Ivan Kravchenko, a physicist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said his family is "very unusual" and that it was difficult to say why so many of his children were able to complete their studies at such young ages.
His oldest daughter, Maria, completed medical school at age 22 after finishing an undergraduate degree at 18.
"It's not good, it's not bad," he said. "I'm not holding them back. Holding them back and trying to fit into some kind of rigid frame does no good."
Emily Gray, an instructor at UT and the director of student services in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, hired Kravchenko as a teaching assistant last year. She said she had no idea until a few weeks ago that she was one of UT's youngest-ever students.
The subject came up when Kravchenko mentioned that she had been invited to two end-of-the-year awards ceremonies and unassumingly asked Gray whether she should go.
"She's very humble about everything," Gray said. "She would have never said, 'I'm 17 and I'm graduating and I'm the top graduate in the college.'"
"She's happy all the time," said Kravchenko's academic adviser, Cheryl Kojima, associate professor and undergraduate coordinator in the department of animal science. "She must work hard, but she seems just calm and taking it all in and enjoying her classes."
Kravchenko said she doesn't feel like she missed out by never living in a dorm or experiencing college life at a more traditional age, although there have been some inconveniences associated with going to school so young.
"When I was younger I couldn't drive, so I was stuck on campus all the time," she said. "With regards to talking to other people though, (it's not difficult.) Most of them don't even realize I'm a lot younger."
When she's not studying, Kravchenko is a third-degree black belt in taekwondo and works as a kennel supervisor at Ideal Veterinary Hospital in Oak Ridge. She said she plans to slow down a little before going to veterinary school — hopefully at UT.
"Over the summer I'd like to just go out and experience life," Kravchenko said. "I plan on having fun."