As the Spokane Scholars Foundation announced its top award winners Thursday afternoon, Keegan Tran should have been standing in a banquet hall at the Spokane Convention Center as his $4,000 scholarship was announced. There would have been applause.
Instead he was mowing his front yard.
These are strange times, even for the best and brightest.
Tran was halfway through with the lawn when his phone lit up with a text. It was from Trevor Zalud, a fellow Mead High School senior who wondered if he’d heard any news about the awards.
Moments later came a text from Spokane Scholars and a link to a video announcing the winners. Thousands of dollars were at stake.
“But I didn’t think I could win, so I honestly just didn’t watch it,” Tran said.
As Tran got back to his yard work, Zalud and his parents got the news that he’d won the top prize of $4,000 in the World Languages category.
At the same time, another friend from Mead, Eric Liu, paused his online lesson in organic chemistry – college level, of course – long enough to learn that he’d taken the top award in Science.
A few minutes later, Tran’s lawn mowing was halted again by another text from Zalud – something about a sweep for Mead.
There went the surprise, followed by another text from Zalud.
“Oops,” it read.
“So I got curious and went to watch the video on my phone,” said Tran, the winner of the top prize in English.
“I’m pretty excited right now,” Tran said.
Despite the altered circumstances, the adrenaline was flowing Thursday.
After getting the news, Liu confessed that he couldn’t concentrate any longer on his chemistry lesson; Zalud reflected on what it’s meant to be able to converse in Spanish to a homeless man in Spokane; and Tran excitedly called his parents, both of whom were away at work.
Then Tran finished the lawn, but not before thanking his English teachers at Mead for their dedication.
“I can’t emphasize how important those teachers are to me,” Tran said.
Forced weeks ago by the coronavirus to cancel the banquet, the foundation honored all 156 of its scholars with a two-page color photo spread in Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.
The top winners, four in each category – English, Fine Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies and World Languages – were announced by video on Thursday. Checks will be delivered next week, organizers said.
The other $4,000 winners were Helen Gao of Ferris in Mathematics, Kimball Demars of Central Valley in Fine Arts, and Kathryn Moon of St. George’s in Social Studies.
Tran, a four-year letter winner in cross country and an AP Scholar, will attend Notre Dame this fall and major in either mechanical engineering or mathematics.
Zalud, who like Tran carries a 4.0 grade-point average, said his “talent” for languages paid off during an encounter with a homeless man named Guillermo whom he encountered while working at the Salvation Army.
“He reminded me of my grandfather,” Zalud said. “When you speak to a person in his home language, it opens up a whole new world.”
Liu, who also has a 4.0 GPA, scored in the 99th percentile in the Scholastic Aptitude Test and plays the violin. He plans to study pre-med at the University of Pennsylvania.
His research on breast cancer detection will be presented later this year at the American Academy of Cancer Research.
“Ever since I was young I always found that medicine is the best combination of knowledge, and applying that knowledge to helping a community of people,” Liu said.
Demars, who has performed in the Central Valley and Spokane Valley summer theaters, is an Eagle Scout and has a 4.0 GPA and scored a 32 on the ACT.
After serving a Latter-day Saints mission, Demars plans to attend BYU and earn degrees in either musical dance theater or voice, and psychology or counseling.
Gao has built a weighted GPA of 4.59 by taking numerous AP classes and is enrolled in several upper-division classes at Gonzaga University, including complex analysis, ring theory and linear algebra.
Gao earned perfect scores of 5 on eight AP tests.
At St. George’s, one of the teachers calls Moon “one of the most brilliant students I have ever taught.”
The only student in the Spokane area to be named a candidate in the 2020 US Presidential Scholars Program, Moon carries a 4.0 GPA and scored a 1560 on the SAT.
The Spokane Scholars Foundation, an all-volunteer organization, is dedicated to recognizing the exceptional academic achievement of high school seniors from the Spokane area.
All 156 scholars are awarded a Spokane Scholars Foundation Medallion of Academic Achievement, Celebration Program, Certificate of Merit, and a Letter of Commendation from Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
With the 2020 awards, 530 scholars have received cash awards totaling $1.3 million. Fourteen regional universities will make a one-time match to the monetary awards of $4,000 to $1,000 for award recipients who choose to attend their institution.
Through 2019, these 14 collegiate institutions have matched $366,000. Funding for the awards and the event comes from donations given by individuals, professions, businesses and foundations.
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