Scholarship Shoutout Saturday – Luke McCullough

Try to picture how movies such as Booksmart, Dazed and Confused or Pretty in Pink would have played out during a global pandemic. This year’s seniors are living what readers just imagined.

Graduation from high school is a milestone deeply rooted in the exploration of future possibilities, celebrations of freedom and physical rituals that are hard to conceive of when leaving your house involves masking up and maintaining a six-foot distance from other people.

MAC Scholar Athletes are, by definition, not just average students, but the graduating seniors in their ranks are only human. While talking about the opportunities presented to them by the club and Multnomah Athletic Foundation’s scholarship program, they focused on how lucky they felt, even without traditional pomp and circumstance.

With $1,500 to put toward their continuing education, plus access to MAC’s facilities and a wealth of potential philanthropic connections, the scholarship is given yearly to a sophomore from each of Portland’s 29 area high schools. Read on to learn about the diverse individuals this will support moving forward. But first, in honor of the graduation ceremonies deferred or reimagined, two seniors talk about moving onto the next stage of their lives with a little help from their friends at MAC and MAF.

Luke McCullough

“Six months ago, my plans for the summer were to continue to work my retail job in the mall, and perhaps travel to Peru with my family for a graduation vacation,” says Grant High School grad Luke McCullough. If, as various sayings have asserted, human intentions are great sources of humor for the universe, COVID-19 has given all of life a laugh track.

Adversity occasionally has an upside, though. For McCullough, it’s a clarity of purpose gained from his experiences as a student, competitor, MAC Scholar Athlete and, most recently, resident of the new global reality.

“I had planned to study sociology and psychology at either the University of Washington or the University of Oregon in the fall, depending on which one would turn out to be less expensive,” he explains. Now, he’s decided on U of O, and his hopes for the future include just being able to venture out and see great live music or taste a new kind of cuisine again.

Perhaps it was spending more time with his family than he’d previously anticipated, but McCullough says he’s gained a new-found appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. He’s been watching classics of ’80s and ’90s cinema, playing poker and Rummikub, and getting his exercise by rediscovering the Rose City on two wheels.

“This pandemic experience has moved me to start new routines and accomplish things I never would have done before this time,” he says. “Every other day now, I bike 15-30 miles across the Portland metropolitan area to view and absorb as many new places as possible. I have biked to Kelley Point Park in North Portland, Waterfront Park in Milwaukie and Southwest Community Park in Gresham.”

With hip-hop and R&B as his soundtrack, he’s cast his mind back during those rides, contemplating the experiences that have shaped him. During his junior and senior years, he volunteered as head coach of a second- and third-grade basketball team called The Golden Girls. He overcame stage fright to present his junior thesis to classmates in AP English. He even received All-League Honors for his hard work on the football field.

“As a senior, I was chosen as a second team All-PIL receiver, and given that I stand beneath most football players at a mere 5 feet, seven inches, I was grateful to have been recognized. This honor is by far my favorite athletic moment in my high school career,” he says.

“I also learned a lot from the girls I coached. The amount of laughter and silliness that sprang out of them when we came together for warm-ups and ran through drills at practice seemed to fuel our strength as a team and our appreciation for each other. I am very happy that I had the opportunity to assist them in their development as athletes and individuals, just as the coaches and mentors of my youth did for me.”

He’s also thankful for the appreciation and access that comes with being a MAC Scholar Athlete. “I would like to think I have put in a good amount of effort toward both my academics and athletics over the years, and to have people point out my strengths is an honor.

“In terms of my future plans, being a scholar athlete at MAC has sharpened my networking and communication skills, which I know will be of use as I continue to grow. I am grateful for the acknowledgement!”

Originally published in the June 2020 Issue of The Winged M magazine.

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