Paul Quach, North Salem High School Class of 2022 (Courtesy/Paul Quach)
This article is part of a series of profiles of Class of 2022 graduates.
Amanda Asp remembers the moment graduating senior Paul Quach told her he’d won a full scholarship to college.
“He came into my room at the end of the day and put his hand out and was like, ‘Hi, Paul Quach, ASB secretary, Gates scholar,’” the teacher recalled. “I was like, ‘Wait, what?’”
It’s the sort of nonchalant humor and confidence Quach, 17, has built his high school career around.
“Most students really are drawn to his energy. He’s a very honest and trustworthy person and kids who meet him and get to know him love and appreciate him,” Asp said.
His experiences at North Salem High School are difficult to sum up because Quach is perhaps best known for being a Renaissance man. He came to high school most interested in physics after a middle school math teacher gave him a textbook of physics problems to work through. It drew him in immediately.
“I just found so much excitement,” Quach said of finding ways to apply math to real-world problems.
But Quach has also taken on leadership roles in a half dozen organizations at North, serving in student government, the school district’s student equity committee, Future Business Leaders of America and more recently trying his hand at theater. He’s also taken a turn at reading the morning announcements over the school intercom.
His myriad activities are immortalized on the back of his senior sweatshirt, which has WWPDQ – What Wouldn’t Paul Quach Do?
“People have always warned me about doing too much … but I feel like what has made me who I am is being able to juggle so many things,” Quach said. “I do have passion, and the things I do, I’m not just doing it for a ... reward or recognition. I'm doing it because I'm passionate about the things I'm a part of.”
Paul Quach serves as a honorary cheerleader during a senior staff volleyball game on April 26 at North Salem High School (Courtesy/Paul Quach)
Quach’s parents came to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1991, settling in North Carolina before moving to Oregon to be closer to relatives. His father is a cook in the family restaurant.
“They are those parents who cared so deeply, but they don’t express it that often. This simple idea of, ‘Did you eat food yet? Is your homework done? Did you do this and that?’ Those are them saying ‘I love you,’” Quach said.
Quach will be the first in his family to attend college, heading to Wesleyan University in the fall. He’s earned several scholarships, including the Gates, which pays the balance of any college costs not covered by other scholarships.
Linda Munguia, North’s college and career center coach, said Quach has been a fixture in her office, showing up to every meeting with notes about the applications and tasks he needed to accomplish that day.
“I’ve never seen such a young person have their agenda written out so quickly,” she said.
But Quach isn’t just interested in his own success. Asp and Munguia both said he’s always working to share his knowledge of college and scholarship application processes with other students.
“That has had a big influence on our whole school,” Munguia said. “Sometimes I think he doesn’t know how much power he actually has when he’s sharing that information with other students.”
Quach’s success as a first-generation student from a low-income family has helped Munguia encourage other students.
“I hear students all the time say, ‘Nah, we’re from the ghetto, we can’t do this,’” she said.
“Now I can say with all honesty when I’m in front of our students, it is possible. And that is something Paul has gifted me with.”
Quach plans to study physics and sociology at Wesleyan. He’s interested in blending the two and finding ways to use science to advocate for change and promote equity.
“I feel that there’s so many things I have to say and I just want to inspire that within everyone else,” he said.
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM - We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!