Polite Stewart Jr. and I had a big laugh the other day after I said to him, “So I take it from what you’re saying, you’ve been goofing off for the past three years. You need to focus on what you want to do in life.”
I met Stewart about seven years ago when his dad had come to my office to tell me that he was about to register his son at Southern University.
“What’s the big deal about that?” I thought at time. The big deal was that his son was 14 years old and wanted to major in physics.
Stewart had been homeschooled by his parents, both educators. He also had gone through the academically rigorous Timbuktu Academy at SU.
“There is nothing else we can teach him,” Polite Stewart Sr. said at the time.
After four years, Stewart Jr. graduated from Southern with a degree in physics, and he went off to Berkeley, California, and this is where I blame him for goofing off.
I noticed that he’d gotten a little buff as he had begun to dig more deeply into martial arts. He has been involved in tournaments and even had a slight sports injury from one of the matches.
He spoke with conviction about the various kinds of martial arts he practices, but I had nothing to add because what I know of martial arts is from Bruce Lee movies.
Since he graduated from SU in 2012, Stewart has worked and conducted research at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
He spoke with great conviction about working at Beamline 7.3.3 and the Advanced Light Source, photons and linear progressions and wide-angle rays and protein samples. I lost focus. My brain and comprehension were stuck in traffic and would never catch up with him. I nodded occasionally to let him know I was still breathing.
Once he fell back to my world, I wanted to know if Berkeley was like I envisioned — smart people, lots of pot smokers, some of them who are both.
“It’s still the same,” he said. “Out there they call it 420 (the unofficial term for the enjoyment of marijuana). Even people looking for an apartment will ask their potential landlord, ‘Are you 420 friendly?’ ”
Stewart said marijuana is not for him. “The problem is,” he said, “it stops you from doing things you want to do.”
And Stewart has a lot of things he wants to do.
He came by my office because we are friends and because he had completed his work in Berkeley, and now he’s looking at a master’s degree in biomedical engineering. He said he wants to go into the medical field, but not to be a physician.
Stewart has many points of interest, but one that stands out is that he wants to develop low-cost medical devices or implants for people needing prostheses. I joked that low cost and the medical field are two things that rarely marry.
“It’s something I want to do,” he said, “and I’ll get it done.” There’s a long list of lots of other stuff on his radar, but it’s all on the hush-hush because he has patents and other legal things to consider before going public.
Right now, Stewart is weighing whether to get his master’s degree from a noted Atlantic Coast college known for its basketball program or from a foreign university’s top science program.
You can conclude from this column that I really admire Stewart. While he has been pulled and tugged by so many people who have marveled at his intellect at such a young age, I have been amazed by his level-headed approach to life.
While home-schooling prevented the life experiences he would have learned in a regular classroom setting, what his parents have instilled in him and what he learned as an early teen in college have prepared him well for the big stage.
Some day, we may hear about some bigger things that he has accomplished. And, if we don’t, I’m sure he will do a lot of little things well for someone else’s benefit.
Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is email@example.com.