Decatur High School
Hometown: Federal Way
College: University of Washington
At age 4, Ron Painter memorized the multiplication tables. While his friends were still learning how to color inside the lines, he was solving problems in a college algebra workbook. With a 3.99 grade-point average, and a 1,370 score on the SAT, this 17-year-old recently applied to Harvard and Stanford - just to see if he could get in. He did. He's especially proud because he didn't even disclose his disability on the applications.
Deaf since birth, Painter has never heard his mother's voice, yet he's fluent in four languages: Spanish, French, English and American Sign, his native language. He's an accomplished writer who tutors hearing students on their essays and term papers at Highline Community College.
"He has worked so hard not to get special treatment from his teachers," says his mom, Shannon Painter. "He wants to be known as a student who worked hard. Being deaf is secondary."
Students like Painter usually come along only once in an educator's career, says Decatur Principal Gerald Millett. "I have never met anybody so exceptional, so talented, so bright," he said. "He's a career student. I have not met anyone so capable."
With the world in his hands, Painter hasn't decided if he'll go into teaching, science or something completely different. "I just have so many things that I'm interested in," he said through an interpreter. "I just love to learn."
Person he most admires: his mom. "She's been a wonderful role model for me; I can't even start to tell you what my mom's done for me. She's been more than a mom; she's my best friend."
Biggest mistake: Trying to juggle a part-time job and 22 college credits in his last quarter of high school, when "senioritis" is setting in.
Advice to next year's grads: "Know your limits. Don't push yourself too far. Enjoy yourself, you're only a senior once, and you have plenty of time to feel stressed (when you're an adult)."
- Lisa Pemberton-Butler