He scampered down the miniature basketball court at Pipe Creek Elementary School, playing a combination of hoops and football — and announcing the game to an empty gym.
I was strolling down the sideline, having gotten into the habit of walking in the school every day after classes ended.
The child’s imagination struck me, and I intuited he had raw brainpower. I soon learned he was a third-grader.
That boy is 21 now, a senior at IU. I have no doubt he will turn his brainpower into important contributions that will better humankind. In fact, he’s already begun.
His name is Raymond Parrish II, the son of Julie Parrish, who is in her 38th year of teaching kindergarten at Pipe Creek, and the late Raymond Parrish.
At lunch the other day we talked about a wide range of stuff — complicated science, music, his future, his parents’ influence, cooking and more.
Parrish is majoring in biology, with minors in music, chemistry and animal behavior — an odd combination, perhaps, but not for a young Renaissance man. His father — as you will see — was a Renaissance man.
Last August, Raymond won the prestigious Internal Wells Scholarship Award at IU, given in honor of the late, great IU president, Herman B Wells. Only one or two students are chosen out of 18 to 20 nominated each year from the more than 40,000 on the IU Bloomington campus. He was the sole recipient for 2012.
Since then he’s garnered the Edward L. Hutton Honors College Research Grant worth $3,000 and the Herman B Wells Summer Experience Grant worth $1,750.
The Internal Wells Scholarship was awarded last August after Parrish, two other students, and two of their professors published in the distinguished journal Science a paper titled — wait for it — “Running With the Red Queen: How Host-Parasite Coevolution Selects for Biparental Sex.”
The paper involves the evolution of sexual reproduction. Essentially, Parrish explains, he and his fellow researchers demonstrated that infection by parasites can cause reproduction between males and females to predominate over hermaphrodites reproducing themselves in populations of nematodes.
Parrish continues: “This is interesting, because it helps provide evidence for a theory [The Red Queen Hypothesis]. The theory attempts to explain why biparental reproduction is so prevalent in nature when it is extremely costly in the percent of genes that parents can pass on to their offspring when compared to hermaphroditism or asexuality.”
Doing such critical, scientifically intensive work had not initially interested him at Maconaquah High School, Parrish volunteered. But shortly before he left Mac as valedictorian and with all A's, except for an A-minus in freshman geometry, his thinking changed.
Music had been his thing. He had learned to play most of the brass instruments and been the band’s drum major.
But “somewhere around the end of the [senior] school year, I decided I didn’t want to make music a career,” Parrish says. “I didn’t want to ruin my passion for music by having some kind of 8-to-5 [music] job and then coming home and not wanting to play an instrument. Music is emotion and passion, not income. I respect people who do it for a career.”
That was an important decision for a young man who had won the John Philip Sousa Band Award in 2010, while also being named an AP Scholar with Distinction and winning a National Honor Society Scholarship Award.
Other honors — the IU Excellence Scholarship and the IU Valedictorian Scholarship — provided Parrish with essentially a free ride through IU his first two years. The Herman B Wells scholarship paid for his junior year and will cover his senior year.
Parrish will be seeking more grants and aid as he goes through the process of applying to medical schools — among them the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, Northwestern, IU and Boston University. He hopes to do research on the evolution of antibiotic resistance en route to becoming a physician.
“I want to do research first,” he says. “Research schools offer greater opportunity to be in policy-making positions. There are two kinds of schools, one for primary care, the other for research. That’s kind of how med schools are going these days.
“I want to be an accredited clinical physician and do a residency after I’ve done research. I want to work with patients, and I’m interested in surgery.”
He takes a sip of water, then: “My research has spurred a very strong interest in the intersection between medicine and evolutionary genetics.”
Asked if he would be interested in working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said yes, adding he’s also open to working for the National Institutes for Health and the World Health Organization — places where he could deal with epidemics.
Parrish’s research has prompted him to establish Folding@IU, a philanthropic project he has worked on in addition to his laboratory research.
“Understanding protein folding is the key to beginning to understand the way in which incorrect protein assembly can cause human diseases,” Parrish says between bites of a chicken sandwich.
It leads to learning more about the genetic code in the search for answers that will advance the treatment and cure of debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, mad cow and Huntington’s.
He says Folding@IU gives students who are not comfortable with joining traditional campus groups an opportunity to become part of a voluntary research-oriented program.
Folding@IU makes research contributions to Stanford University’s Folding@home project, which studies molecular dynamics and diseases involving protein malfunction.
It’s a massive project too big for any single computer, Parrish explains. Thus, teams around the world — there are 215,000 of them — are part of the Stanford project, working on pieces of the protein puzzle.
The IU team, which consists of some 200 people, is ranked in about the top 2 percent based on how much folding research it has done, Parrish says with understandable pride. “That’s after just one year of existence,” he adds with a broad smile.
Aside from leading the Folding@IU group, Parrish is preparing another scientific paper with fellow students and faculty members. And he and the others have a paper undergoing review.
Parrish, who has a 4.0 GPA and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, won’t be solely wrapped up in studies and research his senior year. Last year he was appointed by IU President Michael McRobbie to the Board of Aeons, a student group that tackles issues facing the university. The group has been in existence since the ’20s.
It’s easy to understand why Parrish was chosen. He’s articulate, extroverted and level-headed. And, I sensed, already media-savvy.
Despite the vast amount of time it takes to study, do research and serve IU, Parrish won’t ignore his interest in music. And he’ll keep an eye on the New York Yankees, his favorite team.
So where does Parrish’s brilliance, drive, enthusiasm, multi-faceted interests and gentlemanly behavior come from?
No surprise: exceptional parents.
An only child, Parrish grew up with a father who was his hero and a role model, and a mother who has been “the rock of my existence, my anchor.”
His father was just 57 last October when he was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident on U.S. 24. It ended the life of a man who was born in Grand Rapids, Mich., and developed into a multi-faceted individual, earning a degree in accounting at Western Michigan University, serving as a major in the Air Force, and becoming a pilot for American Airlines, flying international routes that took him to London, Japan, China and other foreign destinations.
When he wasn’t handling a huge airplane, Parrish was involved with the Main Street Methodist Church, built sets for Ole Olson, dabbled in architecture, and juggled pots and pans in the Parrish kitchen.
“My dad was a great cook, as good as any in a restaurant,” Parrish says with pride. “My mother is a very good cook. But when we had company, my dad did the cooking.
“After he died, as a way to stay close to him, I started cooking. I could never compete with him, but I’ve learned some of his recipes and mastered a few.”
Asked what his father had left him, Parrish pauses, then: “A general philosophy of life. He used to tell children when he gave talks that when a wave comes, you have two choices. You can either drown or surf on it.
“I found myself on a wave after he died. I could either drop out of school and become a recluse, or I could make him proud of me. I chose the latter.”
And, of course, making his mother proud, too, is a given.
After our lunch, I recalled my strolls at Pipe Creek. I remembered seeing Parrish and his mother ambling down a hall with her arm over his shoulder.
He’s a lean, 6-footer now, who towers over her 5-2½ frame. But he knows her arm will always be over his shoulder — figuratively if not always literally — as he moves forward doing important things with his life.
Ray Moscowitz of Bloomington is a retired newspaper executive and former publisher of the Peru Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com.