Rainier Scholars Eliminated the Impossible

Johnny ValdezWhen I was 11, Rainier Scholars gave me the early understanding that education, determination, and the practice of the program’s core values of perseverance, integrity, and courage are the most effective ways to realize a dream. Being a multi-racial, but perceptually black male in one of America’s whitest cities, and the child of a single-mother presented me with the myriad barriers endemic to those pieces of my identity and placed me in a demographic statistically destined to fail. At that age, I was unsure of my abilities and the normalized realities of my background in context had formed me into a person who was unsure of himself. After completing the 14-month Academic Enrichment Phase, I not only a felt a sense of relief and accomplishment, but I also gained the understanding that I could do anything. At that point, the concept of “the impossible” left my consciousness and I moved forward with a certain empowerment tempered by the rigors of what I still consider to be one of the most difficult endeavors I have engaged to date.

Following that period, Rainier Scholars immediately began to return on its promise that if you work for it, it can be yours. That “it” first manifested in my acceptance to Lakeside School, where I dreamed of studying for years before it was a goal within reach. When I entered this new space, I felt ready for any challenge, as I knew that any project would simply take time, effort and planning to execute. I carried this approach with me throughout my six-year career at Lakeside during which I found what would eventually become my focus in life; art.

I initially imagined myself on a corporate path that would give me security to do art later in life. But, as I found myself in the studio for endless hours each day, wishing that my life could be filled with creative expression, I chose to follow one of the many pieces of advice imparted upon us by Rainier Scholars founder, Bob Hurlbut: “don’t wish for it, work for it.” And so I did. After my graduation from Lakeside, I began my studies at Swarthmore College, graduating with a B.A. in Studio Art and Chinese, then was awarded a Fulbright grant by the U.S. Department of State to continue my work at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, China. This fall, I will begin the final piece of my formal studies with an MFA in ceramics at UCLA, but in the interim, I have the pleasure of serving as Rainier Scholars summer marketing intern, which includes sharing the stories of my fellow alumni and how the program has impacted them.

Alex and Vases

Rainier Scholars, its guiding principles and the developmental experiences and opportunities it provided me continue to allow me live my best life today. I will never forget the value of the program or the people who made it and my success possible.

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