rebelling against low expectations

David Banh: College Phenomenon


David Banh: College Phenomenon

18-year-old David Banh saved himself three years of college and thousands of dollars in student-loan debt by taking on a grueling course load over two semesters and becoming the first student in school history to complete the University of Virginia’s four-year bachelor’s program in a single year. [HT: Boundless Line]

The “I’m Not A Genius” Syndrome

According to the Washington Post, almost two-thirds of freshmen students at four-year colleges in Virginia take six years to graduate. But just a year and a summer after graduating from high school, David Banh has a double major in math and physics. Now he’s starting graduate studies on a research grant, hoping to finish his master’s degree by the end of the academic year.


At this point it would be oh-so-easy for all of us normal people to place David in the “so-smart-its-disgusting” category and move on. But his accomplishment represents far more than an above-average IQ. It represents hours and hours (and hours) of hard and disciplined work that started long before he stepped foot on campus.

Once we label someone as a “genius” we usually cease feel the need to learn from them or to be challenged by their example. I call it the “I’m Not A Genius” syndrome. It’s dangerous. There is much we can learn from people like David Banh, and not just academically. We should all be challenged by their example.

In the wise words of Thomas Edison: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

David’s “Do Hard Things” Mentality

David seems to have adopted Mr. Edison’s famous adage while still in high school, taking as many advanced placement exams as he could and amassing an incredible 72 credits. He wisely used the teen years as they were intended, as a training ground and launching pad for the rest of his life. With that hard work done, David was halfway to his bachelor’s degree before the start of his first college semester.

At that point he could have breezed through a normal college course load and still finished two years early. But he didn’t. Instead he chose to continue the approach he took in high school: Hard work. But after signing up for 23 credit hours the first semester—most students take around 15—he found himself still with more free time than he had in high school.

Knowing that he would have to take out student loans if he continued a second year, David decided it made a lot more sense to just finish in a single year. An unheard of 37-credit second semester completed his mathematics major, with a final summer class getting him the three additional credits he needed for a double major in physics. He graduated last month.

“From the very beginning, I was amazed,” David’s mathematics professor, Irena Lasiecka, told the Daily Progress. “He was definitely the best student in the class, and also the most mature even though he was younger.”

Why We Do Hard Things

From what I can gather from the articles available, David is not a Christian. Yet we can still commend his work ethic. The way he continually pushed himself in high school and college to “do hard things” is an excellent example to rebelutionaries.

With his brains and talent, David could have easily coasted through high school and college. Instead he diligently applied himself to a season of intense study; even when it kept him from other enjoyable activities; even when his friends thought he was slightly insane. What was his motivation? Saving time and money.

This is how rebelutionaries differ from the David Banhs’ and Michael Sessions’ of the world and why I pray they will be far less rare. As Christians, as rebelutionaries, we have far better reasons to do hard things. Here are three of them:

      1.) A higher purpose: To glorify our Creator. It’s not about us.

      2.) A greater strength: The work of the Holy Spirit. Not our own strength.

      3.) A sweeter joy: Knowing Christ as Savior. Saved by grace alone.

Friends, these are priceless biblical truths. Stories like David’s turn our society’s expectations of teenagers upside down. They demonstrates how capable young people can be if they apply themselves. They prove the power of a young man dedicated to a dream. But friends, as Christians we have a calling that is higher than any earthly dream and a power beyond any human strength.

Let us then continue to earnestly challenge one another to “do hard things” for the glory of God, developing and using our gifts to their full potential wherever God has called us, never content to give up, coast, or “just get by.” And let us be willing to sacrifice anything that would distract us from that calling (Hebrews 12:1).

This is a call to the sold-out Christian life, what G.K. Chesteron calls the “Christian ideal.” This quote by him is one of our favorites: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

Oh, Lord—for your glory and by your grace—may we be a generation of Christians who find it difficult and yet still try.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • just wanted to add a little of my own thoughts to this post….

    i’ve often wondered myself in the past – what could i be when i grow up that will ultimately show forth my love for Jesus and glorify Him? what occupation could i take up that would obviously show everyone that i’m a christian? i’ve made the mistake sometimes of feeling guilty because i don’t have as much passion in my heart to become an overseseas mssionary as some people do. i would feel guilty because i wasn’t showing as much interest in sharing my faith like that, when other people around me were showing incredible passions for it, and were being amazingly blessed.

    i’ve realized lately though, that that’s not how it has to be. i don’t have to become a missionary, be heavily involved in a Christian organization, or become a world-wide speaker just to show the world what i believe. i can do that here! right now!
    i can work hard, i can do “hard things” right here in my own house, in my own neighborhood, in my own church, in my own occupation.

    i’m a sophmore and still unsure about my college future, but i’m strongly considering art school. i have a passion for art and spend alot of time in it, so hopefully i will be able to pursue my dream and passion through future college courses. my older sister is in a bible college, so sometimes i would get the guiltiness of not wanting to go into Biblical studies as she has. here i am dreaming about becoming an artist, when shes out there studying the Bible and preparing for a life of serving God in the mission field!
    I realize now that it doesn’t have to be that way. I can still use the special gifts and talents God has given me for good. I can use my art in an incredible way for God, portraying His love through paintings, or even having opportunity to interact with people – and in that way, allowing for a chance to minister to them.

    thanks brett and alex for making these thoughts even more clear for me, specifically in mentioning the three reasons that we have for doing “hard things”.

  • wow. that guy has incredible self-dicipline. i have often found myself using the “‘i’m-not-a-genious’ sydrome” as an excuse for not doing the best i can do. I really like those 3 points. they are very insightful and encouraging.

    charity, just to add a little to what you were saying. i too wanted to be a missionary when i was younger but now i’ve realized that i can’t change the world, much as i’ld like to. it isn’t about me showing others my passion but i’ve got to start with building that passion just for Christ. we love God first, then we will learn to love people. God dosn’t need us. He wants us and He uses us just for His glory. I don’t have to worry about bringing people to Christ if i’m at home or abroad. no matter how hard i try no one will be drawn to the Lord without Him first drawing. it is an incredible blessing, though, when God does use us to further His kindom.

    this is a little off the subject but when charity mentioned being a sophmore and not really knowing what to do with her life it reminded me of somthing. i’m a senior in high school taking dual credit at a junior college nearby for my associates degree and i still have no earthly idea what i’m going to major in. anyway, i’m learning (or trying to learn) to trust God. i’ve noticed He uses things like this a lot to build our faith.

  • “1.) A higher purpose: To glorify our Creator. It’s not about us.”

    It is so easy to “do hard things” for yourself and for your own glory, rather than to “glorify our creator”. Personally, I struggle with this, and I wonder about the reasons why David Bahn does hard things.

    “2.) A greater strength: The work of the Holy Spirit. Not our own strength.”

    I find your motto, “do hard things,” to be challenging and encouraging when we consider our relationship with God. The hardest thing to do is to deal with is our sin. However, we know that we have the Holy Spirit backing us up, there to help us.

    I found your blog through WORLD Magazine. You guys have some good stuff, keep it up.

  • This was a neat post. I just started college this August. I can’t imagine how David Banh managed to do all that he did without going insane.
    As for doing hard things fo Christ, that’s why I’m at college. I joined a Bible study and whenever we get to prayer requests, someone says, “I need prayer that I’ll be diligent this week and not be lazy.” To which all the rest of us reply, “That goes for us too.”

  • 37 credit hours in one semester? That’s over 100 in-class hours per week. I have a hard time imagining how it would be possible to even attend class for that many classes, let alone do all the out-of-class assignments. That’s insane.

    I totally support the do hard things motto, but I can’t imagine how David’s schedule is healthy!

  • Apply yourself and you can do anything. Yet another example of working for a goal. In his case an extreme one.

    Good for him.

  • Reading this article has left me thinking. I have been attending college for a few years and while I note that David’s achievement is noteworthy and honorable it is in light of the gifts he is given. God has obviously blessed David with the a great deal of intelligence and memory retention (he reminds me of the mathematician Carl Gauss, publishing major works by 19 and having the entire book of Aenied memorized) and he used it accordingly. Few people will practically be able to carry the load David did, but we should stress that to limit of each persons ability they should “do hard things”. We should be mindful of what God has planned for us at college and not what we feel we should be doing. Also, every so often I wish more Christians in college, especially those in secular colleges, would stop and ask themselves the question, “What ways might God have me minister to this campus?” being mindful that God may not only want them there just to take classes but to be ministers of His gospel and bearers of His light.

  • I would like to add that maybe ‘doing hard things’ isn’t all about ‘doing’….let me explain…. The thing that struck me most about this article was how little (if at all) is mentioned any of David’s relationships. Alex and Brett’s addition was a good reminder that our priority should be glorifying our Saviour, and encouraging people to get to know Him for themselves. It is right that we should work hard at whatever we do, but I think that our relationships should be high up on that list of things. We may not all be called to begin a Masters by age 19, but we all have interactions with family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, shop assistants, doctors, and so on. May I encourage us all (myself included – this is a ‘hard thing’ for me!) to invest in those relationships and take every opportunity that comes along to witness to our glorious and wonderful Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!

  • Liz,
    i totally agree with you. Doing hard things doesn’t have to be only something physical – for instance, it could be something more mental or spiritual, like confessing our sins to God for example. It’s not always easy, so for alot of people, (including me!), confession can be a hard thing. Relationships are definetely a difficult thing – different for every person but still there is always some challenge along the way with a certain individual. Reading the Bible alone is a challenge for so many people, along with praying, memorizng verses, maintaining good attitudes, being selfless, being responsible, being mature, and so much on…..
    There is no limit as to what we can do for Jesus every day….so let’s pick up our crosses, deny ourselves, and follow Him – no matter how hard it is for us!

  • Sometimes I feel sorry for people like David. Some people set themselves a goal like that and put their whole being into it….but what happens when they reach the end of what they set as their “life purpose”? Nothing. You can only go so far. Everything of man ends at some point or another. I hope that when David finds the end of the road that there will be someone there to help him.
    Hollywood stars too….I feel for them. What happens when they’ve reached the top of fame? They tend to ruin themselves completely! It hurts me, because behind those made up smiles is a hurting and lonely normal person.

  • Hmmm… as a college instructor, I have to say that I would worry about a student with David’s habits.

    The University of Virginia represents a fine tradition of liberal arts education, which emphasizes (and prioritizes!) the proper balance of work, leisure, academia, and relationships. And as a Christian worker in campus ministry, I would worry that of David were a Christian, he was allowing himself precious little time for healty involvement in a church and evangelisation of other students. -A herioc work ethic here certainly, but is this one that should be imitated in light of Christian mandates and wisdom?… hmmm…

  • To do 4 years of college in 1 year is phenominal. My father did a four year degree in two, so I already have an impressive example.

    On the radio program Family Life Today the were talking about the meaning of success. They said the world defines success in terms of good job/money, good looks, power and fame/reputation. But, they continued, true success is having a passionate love for God and other people. Someone I know added education is a vain pursuit. While all of these things are good things to gain, they are worthless if they are not used to gain glory for God (1 Cor 13).

    Life should be a quest to know God that starts with Christ’s sacrifice and is supported by the confidence in his return. My primary purpose is to love God.

    My second purpose is to love people. This point has irked me the last few days because I do not love people outside of my family very well. I study hard in school, yet do not achieve my short term goals. So I spend more time studying and less time with people. Even with my music and sports activities, my mentality is “How will this benefit me.”

    I hope to go into the medical field when I grow up. My education is pointed in that direction and well on its way. In the world’s view of success I might do very well. But that ‘success’ will be empty if I do not truly love. Love God with my all and people with the overflow of his grace.

    Now is the time to learn love. Now, as I gain accedemic knowledge in my teen years, is the time to gain the will to altruisticly serve the least desirable people at the most inconvinient time even when it costs me my agenda. If I miss some fun (short term gain) or education (long term gain), that is okay. I will have served God and he will do what’s best for me. If he wants me to be a nurse that will happen if I am following His lead. My future is in his hands. What I can do to prepare for it is prepare my heart with humility and love and my mind with knowledge and wisdom.

    To return to David Bahn, what profit is it if he gains the whole world but loses his soul. If he showed the same drive to know God as he does to learn then I could unreservedly admire his achievement. As it is, I can take his example as an encouragement to succeed before God in the time of my education and my life as a whole.

  • Thank you so much for your article about David Bahn. We have been dealing with the “I’m not a genius syndrome” a lot lately, and were glad to see you set forth so clearly the wrong of dismissing an achievement as the product of intellect rather than labour. Compromise from doing one’s best for the glory of God usually leads to more compromise and laziness. Once we convince ourselves that we are unable to do something, we actually have lost the discipline and therefore the ability to accomplish that thing. As Jonathan Edwards said, we should “live with all our might while we do live”, and remember that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

  • Great post. Thanks for the encouragement. “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus.” 😀

    And David McKay–thank you for your link. It’s so important to remember that older people are important and still have potential…it’s important both for young people and the “old geezers”.

  • What I don’t understand is how come David Banh has to worry about school loans. Obviously he is extremely smart to be taking advanced placement and amassing 72 hours before starting college. Any college admissions comittee would see this and would have offered him full scholarships, room & board, and even study abroad. DIDN’T HE RECEIVE ANY SCHOLARSHIPS?

  • so what if banh is not a christian? as far as i know from reading this article he was highly motivated by financial concerns. and then you could counter that he could’ve gotten a part-time job and finish the double-major in the usual amount of time. but you know what? i don’t think he’s be satisfied with minimum wage, not to mention him realizing that serving in the cafeteria during free time is a waste of time.

    please, good thing banh wasn’t a christian so he wouldn’t be obliged to perform your stupid rituals and take note of your stupid beliefs.

  • It is amazing what this website is doing. When you want to do something you can. Last year I decided I wanted to go to college this year. Through a program in our state, I am able to go to college full time for free, and I am only fifteen! We have a group from my church on campus, and and are starting to do some incredible things for the Kingdom.
    Let’s keep going!!!

  • That is a mind-blowing work ethic he has!
    However, I would still worry about him, as we need to have a healthy balance of relationships, nutrition, personal time, too. He’s not a Christian, otherwise, if he were, I’d be concerned about whether he’s putting any time into his personal relationship with God.

  • I’ve been lusting after that cover since I first saw it but I’ve been waiting on one of my trusted book pimps to read it and give an opinion. You’re that pimp, Bree I wants!

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →