Millennium Scholar: QHS senior named one of nation’s elite
When he arrived six years ago in the United States, Raymundo “Ray” Valle knew little English. What he knew he had picked up in conversations over the telephone with his father, who was employed in the country while also working hard through the legal process to reunite the family here.
At 12 years old, Valle arrived in Quincy. Despite having completed the seventh grade in Mexico, the school district enrolled Valle in the seventh grade to give him a chance to catch up.
The undaunted student with little English skills jumped head-first into academics, and his enthusiasm for everything school related carried on through his senior year at Quincy High School.
Valle is the FBLA historian, ASP treasurer, a class officer, a National Honor Society member and a member of the National Society of High School Scholars. He is in MECHA, DECA, the chess club and the Knowledgeable and Debate club.
He also has served in his community through his work with such volunteer groups as Youth Action and the Communities That Care coalition.
With all of this on his plate, Valle will graduate next month with a 3.9 grade point average.
Alicia Sanchez, the QHS migrant specialist, described Valle as a driven student who always focuses on his academics first. In fact, she remembers times when Valle declined to go on field trips or to extracurricular events because he wanted to complete his homework and study first, Sanchez said.
For his efforts, Valle recently was named a Gates Millennium Scholar, earning him a scholarship to pursue any undergraduate degree he chooses. Funded by a $1.6 billion grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the GMS program awarded scholarships to 1,000 students across the country this year. Valle was one of about 52,000 students who applied for the scholarship. He is the second QHS student chosen for the program. Ruben Reyes was named a scholar in 2013.
Reyes was a peer mentor to Valle throughout the application process. As Valle anxiously awaited an answer regarding the scholarship, Reyes advised him that if he was chosen, he would see a big packet in the mail.
“I found out about three weeks ago,” Valle said. “I was driving by my mailbox and saw a packet sticking out. I grabbed the packet and went home. I opened it and found out I won. My mom cried and I did too.”
The scholarship is meant to be life transforming for its recipients and their families. The scholarship selects minority students from low-income areas who have maintained at least a 3.3 grade point average throughout high school. Scholars are awarded a $100,000 scholarship that they can use toward any community college, four-year university or private school of their choice.
As part of the application process for the scholarship, Valle was required to be represented by two adults – a nominator and a recommender. In his case, the person who nominated him was Sanchez, who also works with Valle and his father, Raimundo Valle, at the Gorge Amphitheatre. Tracy Higgins, a QHS business teacher, was the recommender.
“The nominator speaks to the student’s development outside of school, his leadership role in the community and community service,” Sanchez said. “The recommender speaks to their academics.”
Sanchez had the opportunity to observe Valle’s drive and determination as a student at QHS and as an employee at the Gorge, where he works part time as an operations assistant.
“From the first year, we could put Ray into any position and he could do it,” she said. “He has been able to handle whatever we have given him. He is flexible, knowledgeable and a quick learner.”
The process for applying for this scholarship is long and arduous.
“It is a very lengthy process,” Sanchez said. “They want to know the student inside and out. They invest in your future totally. If you go for your Ph.D., they pay for it. It is the No. 1 scholarship you can receive in your life. Who else is going to fund your education through your doctorate?”
Valle first applied this past summer. He finished his final essays on his winter break.
“They wanted to know your aspirations,” Valle said. They want to know what you do and what your plans are. They want to know that you want to do it because you are invested in it.”
Valle plans to attend Western Washington University to study biochemistry.
“I want to be an anesthesiologist,” he said. “If I change my mind, I can do something in the science field. It will take 12 years to complete. It requires a Ph.D., along with a major in anesthesiology.”
Valle has a few friends who also attend Western Washington University. He likes that the class sizes will be smaller so there will be more interaction between teacher and student.
Raimundo Valle is not nervous about his son being away from home. Considering his son could have chosen nearly any school in the United States, Raimundo Valle is glad his son will be close enough to home.
“We are very proud and happy because this was a very great opportunity,” Raimundo Valle said. “We are so glad. He was working so hard to get the scholarship. Western is not too far. It is close enough to be in touch. We are OK with his decisions. We trust a lot in this guy. Thanks to everybody behind the scholarship. I want to say a special thanks to Alicia for helping him with the scholarship.”
Valle’s senior project seemed to foreshadow his future role in the community as an inspirational motivator and mentor for others. His project, called Enlightening Futures, invited families to hear inspirational stories from students and their families about what they were able to achieve after high school with an education. Valle believes all students have the potential to be successful. He looks forward to returning to the high school someday to speak to future graduates and inspire them as well.
“I hope there are more (GMS) recipients from Quincy in the future, so they can make an impact on the community,” Valle said.
— By Tammara Green, QVPR contributor