Don't call him a genius

Last November, news began to spread about a San Gabriel teenager who’d graduated from ELAC at 11, then graduated from UCLA at 15, and landed an internship at NASA before he’d hit his 20s. Moshe Kai Cavalin, 18, can lay claim to a whole list of precocious accomplishments: he’s got two degrees, has his pilot’s license, and is the author of three books. Alhambra Source spoke to him via email to get his opinions about the “genius” label, bullying, and the sudden public speculation on his home life. Who’s the person underneath all those achievements? Moshe Kai Cavalin graduated from ELAC at 11
How did you get the internship at NASA? 
I applied twice. The first time, I didn’t get any answers and I deducted that the reason was because I was fifteen years old at the time. The second instance, it was good. I hit the target. 
 
What do you do for them? 
I am a systems software architect. I am a member of a team that is working to refine the ADS-B sense-and-avoid algorithm’s conflict detection, trajectory estimation, and prediction capabilities for self-separation assurance.
 
What do you think about comments about your mother being a "tiger mom?"
Cavalin at NASA
"Tiger mom" is a liberal concept trying to encapsulate all Chinese mothers as 
forcing kids to slave over books in order to succeed. My parents focused my educational upbringing with dedicated teaching and balanced freedom for after-school activities. My eclectic educational interests stem from a combination of parenting, discipline, motivation and inspiration.
 
What was your schedule like when you were in college at the age of 8? Did you study the whole week?
Again, this is linked with the idea that scholastic success of Asian kids is due to the slave labor that they suffer by tyrannical tiger mothers. A comment that I hear often is that I didn’t have a childhood due to my success or at least my childhood was an unhappy one without any friends. Just last month I went on a celebration with classmates [I'd met as] a college freshman. These friendships are well rooted and when we have time, we get together. During the ages of 7 and 12, I won diverse international martial arts championships, got my scuba diver certification, wrote We Can Do, participated on many dance and piano competitions and did much more. Does this look like I was tied to my seat studying the whole week with no relief?
 
How do you feel about high school and college? You finished both of them at a very young age.
The general education is dumbing down. I was lucky that I was home schooled by my parents. Most regular high schools, especially in California, are very "PC" and operate at the speed of the slowest student in the class and therefore making the learning process very sluggish.  Science, language and arts education are diluted to almost a drip.
 
You’ve said that you don't like it that people to call you a genius. Why?
Genius describes a very little part of a whole human being. Wisdom is the intellect applied for the benefit of the humanity. Without wisdom, genius and IQ are nil. I decline to answer questions about my IQ. I don’t want be classified by an empty word or a glorified number. I want be classified by my accomplishments and the content of my character.Cavalin with his NASA team at a conference
Do your parents have different opinions about your education?
My education was a product of educational rejections. When I was 6-year-old, I was [more] advanced in academics than my age peers and I wanted start in the 4th grade. The educators wanted to put me to start in the 1st grade or rejected me outright. I was forced to go through homeschooling with no other place to go. It caused my schooling progress to be exponentially faster and consequently be on a junior college level. My parents and I rolled with the consequences of the "educational wind." 
 
Your second book Bully Down is about bullying.  What made you want to write a book about bully victims? 
When I published my book We Can Do to help kids accomplish more for a better future, I never imagined that I would receive thousands of e-mails asking for help against bullies and some were very dramatic. It seemed that they didn’t have anybody to talk to or rely for help. An inner pressure brought me to extend my hand to my brothers and sisters suffering the plagues of bullying and this gave birth to my short successful literary career.
 
Did you experience bullying in your life? If so, how did you deal with it?
When I entered college at the age of 8, there were thousands of articles about me on the internet. By reading the comments section, I was deeply hurt. Many people expressed hate toward me, my family, my ancestry and my future. Now that I understand their behavior, malicious words do not touch me anymore. Sometimes, I just try to analyze the persona behind the hateful remarks: Is it frustration with their personal life? Jealousy? Foolishness? Racism? Complete insanity? 
 
Cavalin stands in front of trophies and medals hanging on his wall
Some people want to know if you are from a wealthy family.
I hear that we are wealthy many times, which makes me shake my head. My mother was forced to quit her job to be able to tutor me and my father was forced to get a second job. I went to a community college due to lack of money. After I graduated from ELAC, I didn’t have any money and I needed to stop for one year until I got the Regent’s scholarship that put me through UCLA. In the year out of school, I was blessed by a scholarship to scuba dive and it was the year that I wrote most of my book. After I finished my studies at UCLA, I needed to stop again due to a lack of money. I needed to work and pull my weight to get money for my graduate studies and my family. My father retired due to illness and gets only a pauper's social security. My mother still cannot work because she needed to take care of my father and me.
 
Based on what I found on Internet, you wear a Chinese tunic suit in many public events and interviews. Why do you choose that suit?
This represents my style and the pride of my heritage.
 
Who is your idol, if you have one?
I don’t have idols. I have persons that I admire: My parents, Gandhi, Moses, Bruce Lee, Einstein, Sun Tzu, Muhammad Ali, Ming Lum.
 
What is the craziest thing you have ever done?
It’s all subjective and relative. For me, one of the craziest experiences I have had (in a good sense) was going to a concert for the first time. [It was for] one of my favorite rock bands, Muse. It was an amazing, yet crazy, spectacle that I was lucky to have experienced with two of my closest friends—my best friends since the early ELAC days.
 
Interview was condensed and edited.

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