When Belicia Cespedes returned from lunch one afternoon last summer, she was surprised to see friends and family gathered outside her family's Canyon Country, Calif., home.
The crowd was cheering, so the teenager joined in, clapping and smiling—until she realized the applause was for her.
Belicia's father, Jan, walked toward her, holding her results from the CPA exam, which she had spent more than six months studying for. "Pass... Pass... Pass...," the sheet read.
At age 17, Belicia had successfully finished all sections of the exam, becoming one of the youngest CPAs in the world.
"I was super excited," she said. "Everyone was cheering. They picked me up and did a victory lap."
Now fully licensed, she works at a local CPA firm where she had previously interned. She has primarily been focused on preparing tax returns, and calls the opportunity an "awesome learning experience." Belicia also does accounting work for her parents' landscaping and construction company, International Environmental Corp. Having earned her license at such a young age—she turned 18 in May—she is taking her time to decide exactly which direction to take her career in the long term. She is considering law school and also is interested in ultimately providing financial planning services in her community.
"She has such a desire to serve others," her mother, Vicki Cespedes, said. "She just sees so many ways to help."
A QUICK STUDY
Belicia is the second of five girls, all of whom received the bulk of their education at home.
"Education was very important to both Jan's family and mine, just because of the sacrifices both of our parents made to come to this country—Jan's family emigrated from Cuba, mine from Mexico," Vicki Cespedes said. After much consideration, the family decided they could best impart their family's values through personalized education at home.
Vicki Cespedes started by teaching eldest girls Ivana, now 19, and Belicia from the time they could sit in highchairs. Each was reading by age 3 and advanced through the grades rapidly.
Middle daughter, Briana, 16, has her bachelor's degree, and Giana, 14, is attending community college. The family also has a 4-year-old child, Eliana.
Growing up, each of the girls studied four to six hours a day, leaving plenty of time for field trips, vacations, tennis, and sleepovers with friends—many of the activities kids in public schools enjoyed. But while many teens were tweeting and gaming their afternoons away, Belicia was getting ahead on her homework. First, it was next week's homework, then next month's work, and pretty soon, she was a few years ahead.
"They really liked being able to go at their own pace," Vicki Cespedes said. "They were so motivated to get to the next thing."
There were perks, too, Belicia recalled: "Every time we moved up a grade, we'd get to go out for ice cream."
COLLEGE AND BEYOND
After graduating from high school at age 13, Belicia took a QuickBooks course and enjoyed bookkeeping so much she decided to pursue a bachelor's degree and study accounting. She enrolled in community college, where she often earned the top scores in her classes, her mother said.
"During those first years of community college, I would help her study and ask questions from her notes, and I could just see her brain ticking away," Vicki Cespedes said. "She would go into this zone.
"My husband and I both thought, there's a gift here," Vicki Cespedes added. "We need to support this and encourage her."
As she completed her bachelor's degree via online classes from Trenton, N.J.-based Thomas Edison State College—which took less than two years—Belicia worked a part-time job with an accountant who had worked with her father. The company was gracious enough to allow a 15-year-old to come in and learn in a professional office, Vicki Cespedes said. Belicia fulfilled her work experience requirement for her license during this time.
Belicia is poised and well-spoken beyond her years. Having spent many days working at her father's landscaping and construction company, she became comfortable in a business setting at a young age. She attended conferences, wrote checks, answered calls, and did some of the filing. Belicia also learned she had a natural affinity for math and solving problems.
"I just 'got it,' " she said. "I kind of have a logical, analytical mind.
"I saw math as a concrete thing, and I like that—you know when the answer is wrong or right," she said.
Studying for the CPA exam was tough, but Belicia had spent years in disciplined independent study as a home-school student. She spent about a month studying for each component of the exam, working through an online program, answering practice questions, and flipping through flash cards.
The tests were long and mentally draining, Belicia said, but her mother would treat her to The Cheesecake Factory and a movie afterward. Even after failing two parts of the CPA exam on the first try, Belicia was back in her room, studying for the retests that she eventually would pass.
"When I first was able to say, 'I'm Belicia Cespedes, CPA,' I couldn't honestly believe it," the teenager said. "I don't think it changes who I am, but it is something I can use.
"I'm really grateful for it and for the opportunity to use it to help others," she said.
As of Jan. 8, Belicia accomplished another milestone. She is the youngest voting member of the AICPA.
This article was originally published in the Feb. 17 issue of The EDGE e-newsletter, which can be found at the AICPA Young CPA Network page at aicpa.org/youngCPA. Click on "The Edge Newsletter" in the lefthand column.
To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager, newsletters, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-402-4077.
About the author
Samiha Khanna (email@example.com) is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C.
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