Extra-curricular: 'School' didn't keep Waldo home

Waldo Jaquith

Where's Waldo? As noted in a recent Hook story, Charlottesville's most famous ex-home-schooled child is now a 25-year-old man studying at Virginia Tech.

But in the many years that preceded Jaquith's move to Blacksburg, he sued the City, nearly won a seat on Council, hiked the Appalachian Trail, won two VH1 awards and– revealed now for the first time publicly– was once described by UVA's president as one of the university's "best students"– despite never having been enrolled!

How were such accomplishments possible? Jaquith credits his family's in-home teaching.

"I could read at the age of two, and my sister at the age of seven months," says Jaquith, noting that his memory of his younger sister's home-schooling stands out more strongly than his own.

"She spoke and read French, could identify dozens of nations and their capitals based on their outline, could name dozens of breeds of dogs, correctly estimate the number of dots on a card between 1 to 100, and name all the U.S. presidents in order." All this before she even started elementary school! [Maybe she should enter The Hook's rainfall contest, see p. XX.]

After a stint marked by admittedly lackluster grades at Western Albemarle High School, Jaquith enrolled in the Living Education Center when it was just beginning as what he calls "a home schooling collective."

"I did a sort of self-/home-schooling combined with alterna-schooling," says Jaquith, who credits his interest in politics and community activism to the challenges raised by those experiences.

In 1997, backed by the ACLU, he sued the City for enacting a curfew banning people under the age of 17 on city streets after midnight during the week and after 1am on weekends. The City won.

In February 2002, when Jaquith vied for the Democratic nomination for City Council, he earned the highest raw vote count on the second ballot– higher even than the incumbent mayor ­ before ultimately losing out.

Jaquith would go on to fight toy giant Mattel over internet filtering software and teach Egyptian hieroglyphics to some UVA seminar students.

As for the famous quote from UVA's president, John Casteen, it illustrates that a non-traditional background can open the hallowed halls of academia least a crack. The gaffe happened in November 1999, at the opening at UVA's "e-summit."

Back when dot-coms were all the rage, Casteen hosted a reception for internet execs such as Bert Ellis Jr. of iXL Enterprises and Mark Templeton of Citrix Systems Inc. Casteen introduced young Jaquith– who then owned a web-development firm– to the executives as one of "our best students."

"I can confirm that," says Max Fenton, a Jaquith friend and business associate who was present at the Carr's Hill event.

Jaquith says that after his last (third) rejection from UVA, he raised the "best students" issue with Casteen, who reportedly did not recall the remark. UVA spokesperson Carol Wood says that such a Casteenian misstep would be understandable.

"In a given year, at events at Carr's Hill, the president sees about 15,000 people," says Wood. "So that's a lot of hands to shake and faces to remember."

The Jaquith rejection earned a Hook headline in May because Jaquith had seemingly followed the rules including earning an A-average at Piedmont Virginia Community College.

"It just galls me that UVA turned down Waldo probably for some snot-nosed rich Northern Virginia kid who's done nothing except score high on SATs and gotten into the national honor society," local businessman Tom McCrystal opined at the time.

"It's a tough route to take, choosing to be home-schooled or self-schooled," says Jaquith. "When you opt out of the system even for a short period of time, it makes it harder to get into college."

As he crams for exams at the end of his first semester at Virginia Tech, Jaquith still runs the popular cvillenews.com. The online digest netted a lot of viewers December 9 with the first media coverage of the 4.5 magnitude earthquake that rattled most of Virginia. Apparently, when the rumbling stopped, the emailing began, and Jaquith– although he didn't feel the quake– filed a report from Blacksburg at 4:12pm, just 12 minutes after the rumbling ceased.