Freshman O’Dorney Juggles Math and Music

Canaday resident is perspicacious—and he can spell it

Evan M. O’Dorney ’15 scribbles on a white board in a cramped Canaday single strewn with laundry and empty peanut butter jars. His face lights up as he demonstrates how to identify patterns using colorful, maze-like diagrams that he has constructed.

He smiles quietly and squints his eyes in intense concentration. Lost in thought, he falls silent as he ponders the complex shapes.

“I might be able to get it published in some little magazine,” O’Dorney says offhandedly as he perches on the edge of his unmade bed.

Publishing might be a small feat for O’Dorney, who had won both the Intel Science Competition and the National Spelling Bee before he matriculated at Harvard this past fall.

At Harvard, O’Dorney has taken the math department by storm. He is one of the few freshmen ever to place out of Math 55—the most advanced undergraduate math course offered—directly into graduate mathematics classes in his first semester.


Though something of a celebrity within the freshman class, O’Dorney modestly discusses his achievements with unstudied nonchalance.

O’Dorney has little patience for small talk, but he is ever eager to discuss his two primary passions—music and math.


When O’Dorney began to do addition at the age of two, his parents quickly recognized his extraordinary intellectual capacity.

“He soaked up things so quickly,” says his mother, Jennifer J. O’Dorney. “The more I taught him the more he wanted to learn.”

By the time O’Dorney was old enough to attend school, his parents decided to homeschool him. “He would have been bored to tears in kindergarten,” his mother said.

O’Dorney’s mother devoted most of her time to her son’s education while he was growing up. His father once worked as a computer programmer but today drives a subway train in San Francisco.

O’Dorney largely taught himself out of textbooks, but his mother worked with him on government and economics.

As O’Dorney reached high school age, his parents began to structure his time with deadlines and assignments.

He attended math classes at the University of California, Berkeley and literature classes with other homeschooled students.


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