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U-Hi senior found positive ways to channel energy

University High School senior Spencer White, right, mentors freshmen as a part of “The Crimson Crew.” (J. Bart Rayniak)
University High School senior Spencer White, right, mentors freshmen as a part of “The Crimson Crew.” (J. Bart Rayniak)

University High School honor student and graduating senior Spencer White embraces change.

Things are pretty much ideal right now, admits the Spokane native who will be one of 417 students graduating with his class on June 11. But White envisions a future where he can help bring about positive changes for individuals and his community.

His teachers applaud his character and leadership style already shown, and he’s been awarded a full academic scholarship to continue his achievements.

It took his own realignment to steer him toward academic success, leadership commendations and community involvement. What seems to come so naturally wasn’t always so easy.

“The greatest challenge was convincing everyone I had changed,” said the one-time angry youth. Some of his elementary years, those following a time when his biological mother left the family, were spent angry and through various channels of school discipline.

It was a fifth-grade teacher who recommended he read the novel “Touching Spirit Bear” by Ben Mikaelsen, the story of a troubled teen who completely changes after spending a year on an isolated Alaskan island.

“That shot me on the pathway of academics and a deeper understanding of life,” says White, 18, the son of Greg and Cathy White, who has served in various leadership roles in school and has been on the board of Spokane’s Chase Youth Commission.

White speaks fondly of activities he’s participated in to make his years successful at U-Hi, all while maintaining a 3.96 grade point average. And he beams when he speaks of his continued academic career at Gonzaga University in the fall where he plans to major in biochemistry and political science. White was selected as an Act Six Leadership and Scholarship Initiative winner. The initiative is a full-tuition, full-need scholarship for emerging urban and community leaders that was started in 2002 by the Northwest Leadership Foundation in Tacoma.

“It’s one of the things that wakes me up in the morning,” the teen says. “I truly appreciate the opportunity to be a positive influence in people’s lives.

“I’d like to be a neurosurgeon,” he says. “I would like to manage a clinic and maybe run for (Spokane) mayor.”

At school, White has served as class president his junior and senior years – which meant this year he was charged with leading class officers to spearhead fundraisers and organize senior prom (which included dinner) at The Davenport Hotel. He is a longtime member of Crimson Crew, the school’s mentoring program for incoming freshman. He also was active in various school clubs and continues to work part-time at a local sandwich shop.

“He motivates a team of other students in a way that I’ve not seen in a student leader in other years,” says social studies teacher and senior class adviser Paul Schneider. “He’s a fairly modest young man, exceptional character for sure… He takes personal responsibility for the teamwork and he is a leader to motivate and inspire others. That’s his hallmark.”