'Not just a one-trick-pony': Rogers High School senior awarded first Happy Watkins scholarship

Feb. 19—Vernon Glass doesn't know the meaning of a "senior slump."

The Rogers High School senior and powerful orator is the first recipient of a scholarship in the Rev. Percy "Happy" Watkins' name. Watkins is revered for his delivery of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech at Spokane's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally.

Last year at the event, Glass delivered a speech about unity and participation that moved Watkins to proclaim him the first recipient of the scholarship in his name.

"I was shocked. I was amazed," Glass said. "It's really heartwarming, because when I spoke last year, I knew nothing about it."

Despite COVID-19 closures overshadowing his freshman year, Glass wasted no chance to embrace activities presented to him at school. His final year, Glass' resume includes varsity basketball and track, his roles as ASB secretary, vice president of his school's DECA and president of the Black Student Union. While balancing a full schedule of extracurriculars, Glass holds down a 3.5 GPA and a part-time job.

"When it comes to high school, oh my gosh, there's just a bunch of things that are just out there for you," he said. "Sometimes you really just have to seize the opportunity before someone else does."

Quickly, this carpe diem mentality consumed Glass's schedule.

"He's busy," his mom, Darcy Horn, said through laughter. "I'm just amazed. Most people say to me you can't even teach drive like that. He's just so self-motivated."

His favorite thing to do outside of his commitments is sleep. Nonetheless, he thrives off of the frenzied schedule.

"Everything I do, I love," Glass said in a weekend interview after varsity basketball practice and before his closing shift washing dishes at The Swinging Doors.

Though he keeps plenty on his plate, Glass said his most rewarding activities are either being the vice president of DECA, a business and marketing school activity with state and national competitions, or presiding over Rogers' Black Student Union.

Being a Black student in a predominately white school, Glass said he sometimes felt ostracized from his peers. Bombarded with racism present nationwide, from police brutality in the news to videos of racist confrontations he'd see on social media, in the Black Student Union he found solace.

"It's pretty odd; you feel like you stand out, you feel like there's nobody there for you," Glass said. "But you really have to dive deeper. When I found out there was a BSU that was my opportunity to dive deeper."

Now the president of the organization, Glass relishes the full-circle opportunity to help freshman members feel comfortable in their own skin.

He is also a leader in DECA; his teacher and DECA advisor Bryan Venema said he hopes underclassmen in the club learn from Glass his astute ability to manage time, a skill lost on most others his age.

In DECA, he qualified this year for the state-level competition for the third time. It involves reviewing a business case study and creating a strategic presentation in front of a judge in a short window of time.

While this year he's feeling cautiously confident in his shrewd public speaking aptitude and sports marketing knowledge, that wasn't always the case. He recalls the first time he felt sure of himself in school was his sophomore year getting a text notifying him that he qualified for the state competition.

"It was like a wakeup call that I can really do this if I just put my mind to it," Glass said.

While it may have flipped a switch for Glass from unsure to secure, Venema knew his capabilities long before Glass realized them.

"That's when I saw the transition, but not when I saw the potential," Venema said. "I saw the potential immediately in him as a freshman."

Venema recalled a quiet freshman in his sports marketing class and DECA meetings, holding an engaged and pensive silence. Some might call it shy, but Venema could see the thoughts forming behind his eyes.

"You'd see him truly listen to what's happening in the classroom, and you'd see the wheels are turning," Venema said. "He may not be speaking, but he's thinking, absorbing the information."

After the dismissal bell rang and students and staff had long left school, Venema would often find Glass in an empty classroom recording himself giving speeches and presentations he'd then scrutinize to find areas for improvement.

"He won't give up, he's shown that," Venema said.

Venema, an educator of 30 years now inching into retirement, considers Glass his "swan song."

Offered additional scholarships to Whitworth, Glass plans to attend the university and study business administration, pursuing the passion he found in DECA. A nod to Venema, he plans to one day get his master's in teaching so he can advise a DECA classroom.

Whatever career Glass pursues, Venema is confident he can weather any storm through his perpetual commitment to his passions and unwavering growth mindset.

"In our society, we've created a lot of reasons, in my terms 'excuses,' for people to quit. Vernon did not fall into that," Venema said. "When he doesn't reach what he wants to reach, I've never heard him make an excuse; it's always about 'OK, this is what I have to do to get better.' "

Elena Perry's work is funded in part by members of the Spokane community via the Community Journalism and Civic Engagement Fund. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper's managing editor.