On Sunday, Rachel Wagley will arrive in Spokane close to midnight. She will most likely be jet-lagged after a flight from Taiwan.
It will be worth it.
On Monday evening, Wagley will be speaking at the 25th anniversary of the Spokane Scholars banquet. Wagley, a former Spokane Scholar herself, is excited for the opportunity. Four of her five sisters were also scholars themselves, so it runs in the family.
“My parents went to many banquets and they finally thought their banquet days were over,” she said.
Wagley will be joined by fellow Spokane Scholars alum Parker Barrile. Both Barrile and Wagley have done well for themselves – Barrile is a partner at a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm. Prior to that he was the vice president of product at LinkedIn.
Barrile was the 1999 Spokane Scholar award recipient in Mathematics and Science. He was an honoree in Social Studies.
Wagley is a foreign policy adviser to U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., and was a 2007 Spokane Scholar award recipient in Social Studies.
This is the first time the speakers at the scholars banquet are former scholars, said organizer and founder Eric Johnson.
While planning the banquet, organizers hoped for something “fresh.” So they reached out to Barrile and Wagley. Both enthusiastically agreed, Johnson said.
“They were one and one on our list,” Johnson said. “These are young people who have a message and want to give back.”
The Spokane Scholars Banquet was founded to honor dedicated Spokane-area scholars. The idea for the banquet came shortly after the Greater Spokane League held its annual athletic banquet.
“Our goal is to make the names of the Spokane Scholars as familiar to the young people in our community as … the names of the starting five on the Gonzaga University basketball team,” Johnson said.
Although there have been changes over the years, Johnson said the organization has maintained the same basic focus. Schools throughout the region nominate students for the award. Johnson hopes the exposure given to the nominees will encourage younger students to take their studies more seriously.
“They are held up now,” Johnson said. “There is great competition to be a Spokane Scholar.”
While attending Shadle Park High School, Wagley said, there was a big focus on sports and underprivileged students.
“There were very few opportunities for kids who were competing more at the AP level,” she said.
The banquet gave those high-achieving students a place to be seen and honored.
“Finally you see the people from around the city who are wanting the same things you do,” Wagley said.
Wagley plans to talk about failure on Monday. Specifically, the importance of failing – something she said can be hard for high-achieving students to do.
“My whole point will be you know you don’t have to just do what you’re best at and not take detours,” she said.
Like Wagley, Barrile will also be flying to Spokane from an exotic locale: Mexico, where he’s vacationing with his family.
“At the banquet my senior year (in 1999) I felt like a rock star,” Barrile said by email. “Math nerds don’t get very many chances to feel that way! Winning gave me confidence that I could hang with anyone, and that helped in college and throughout my career.”
At Gonzaga Prep there was a “supportive environment academically” and students cared about getting good grades. But, what Spokane Scholars did, Barrile said, was honor more than just the grades.
“Scholarship is about more than good grades; it’s about curiosity and passion and a desire to master something,” he said. “That’s how I approached math, and that’s what Spokane Scholars celebrates.”