MARYSVILLE — She asked for SAT-prep books for her birthday, and a graphing calculator for Christmas. She finds solving math problems relaxing. Spencer Sawyer, 17, is serious about school. She wants to be the first person in her family to go to college, and is working hard to get there. The junior at Marysville Pilchuck High School plans to have a career in international business.
Question: You said your favorite classes are math and science — why?
Answer: I just like the process of (math) and how there’s always a process to everything. You can solve the answer. It’s just something that’s been really like relaxing for me. A lot of my friends think it’s really stressful, but for me, I completely go into my own head space and zone and solve a problem.
Q: You’re a part of a club called DECA. What is that?
A: DECA is a club for future entrepreneurs and businesswomen and businessmen … Through it we go to competitions where you have 10 minutes to find a solution to a problem and make a business more profitable. After that, you go up to a judge and give them your whole scenario and your whole solution to the problem and compete by doing that … I’ve gone to state every year since freshman year.
Q: How did you get into that?
A: I remember on Facebook one day seeing a girl older than me post about it and thinking that looks really interesting. So freshman year I found the DECA advisor and talked to him. Freshman year I didn’t know what I wanted to do after high school at all, and now I know that I want to get a degree in international business.
Q: What do you want to do with that degree?
A: I love math so much that I want to get a double major and get a degree in aerospace engineering because I want to work for a big tech company like Amazon or Tesla, somewhere here on the West Coast.
Q: Do you know where you want to go to school?
A: I know what schools I’m going to apply to. Stanford because my mom’s best friend who’s like my aunt worked there for a few years. I’m going to apply to Michigan where she works now and I’m going to apply to NYU and I want to apply to a few Ivy Leagues and USC.
Q: So you’re already thinking about college a lot?
A: Yeah, I’ve already started writing a few of my essays. And I’ve been studying for my SATs since last February.
Q: Why are you so motivated to get ready for college?
A: Well I’ll be a first-generation college student in my family. No one in my family has gone to college, neither of my parents and none of my dad’s 10 siblings. The only person in my family is my maternal grandmother, and she went to Western. So she’s always pushed me because she wants me to do it. I’ve always known that I want to kind of break the cycle and I want to go to college and I want to do something bigger. I kind of want to leave my small little town and I want to see the world and do things.
Q: So is your family excited for you?
A: Yeah, especially my mom. With her never going to college she always wanted me to go. So she’s been right next to me the whole way and anytime I need help with something she’s right there with me.
Q: What’s something you’ve overcome to be who you are today?
A: It was really hard to overcome the Marysville Pilchuck shooting. My brother — the girl he was seeing at the time was killed and a lot of his friends. And so it was during that time a lot of my family was broken, we didn’t know what to do. My way of coping was just shutting myself in my room and just sitting and doing homework and studying for tests and things. That’s something that’s really shaped me. With that experience, I want to do something good with it and take such a hard experience and make something out of it especially in honor of those that were lost.
Q: What’s something you’re really proud of about yourself?
A: All the hard work I’ve put in. Even the nights where I’m up until 3 a.m. and I just want to cry and not do my homework or stop studying for a test, I just get up and I keep working on it until it’s done. And not just done, until it’s perfect.
Q: Do you consider yourself a perfectionist?
A: I took English 101 last quarter and I had to write an essay about somebody or a group of people and I had to correct that misconception. So I chose my aunt and how she’s an indigenous woman and how she grew up on the Tulalip tribal reservation and many people wouldn’t think she could accomplish anything or make it off the reservation and then she did. I remember I was really passionate about the essay but I was really nervous to turn it in. I remember just sitting in my English professors office just crying. I was like “How can I make it better, it needs to be perfect.” So she sat through it with me for 30 minutes and she was like “Spencer, this is like one of the best essays I’ve read. You’re fine. You need to calm down.”
Q: Did you care so much because it was about someone in your family?
A: Oh yeah, that made it way more nerve-wracking. I still won’t let her read it because I’m so nervous to have her read it. I just want it to be perfect. She was like my role model growing up … She would tell me about how she went to college and when she studied abroad. She went to Stanford and did all these cool things. That’s who I kind of want to be when I’m older.
Q: If you could give some advice to a freshman, what would you say?
A: Even those nights when you just want to go to sleep, you just have to stay up to do it. A lot of my friends say “Oh you’re just smart, that’s why you get all these good grades.” But I don’t think it has anything to do with your brain, I think it has to do with the amount of work you put in and how hard you push yourself to do something.
Q: What else are you involved in outside school?
A: I work part-time as a nanny and then I volunteer for the Tulalip Boys and Girls Club a lot because I was raised on the Tulalip Tribes reservation. I’m not tribal, but I grew up out there and almost all my friends are tribal.
Q: Let’s end on a lighter question. Do you have a favorite book?
A: I’m such a nerd, my favorite book is “A Farewell to Arms” by Earnest Hemingway. I love classics.
Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.