Reaching for the stars: Ballenger vacations at Stanford University

Odalys Catalan and Amber Soland

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Some students camp, others travel, and some just play video games for eight weeks.

THMS senior Parrish Ballenger spent his summer at one of the top research universities in the world: Stanford University.

Stanford is well-known for its extreme selectivity, educating some of the greatest minds. Ballenger wants to be one of those minds.

Ballenger has always been at the top of his graduating class and is currently in the running for valedictorian.

It wasn’t much of a stretch to believe that he would be accepted accepted into the Stanford Summer Session—a program where high-school students attend Stanford for an eight week period to earn college credit.

Ballenger took a programming class and a few other courses, earning five credit hours.

Despite spending eight weeks at a world-renowned university, Ballenger didn’t find the experience too different from his current lifestyle, other than the obvious new living situation in the school dorms.

The Real College Struggle

Ballenger didn’t find Stanford that intimidating.

Oddly enough—according to Ballenger—college students at Stanford don’t receive more homework than high school students.

He actually received less homework while away. While the course load lightened, the point value for each assignment was heavily weighted.

Every assignment was worth much more, which required more time to be dedicated to it, for a better grade.

He called this phenomenon a “balance of extremes.”

The most difficult part of college is time management, Ballenger said.

“You realize you have free time only once you’ve already used it.”

Ballenger used some of that valued free time to swim, watch YouTube, and create a Dungeons and Dragons Club at Stanford, much like the one he founded at THMS.

Stanford offered plenty of freedom to their underaged students, but for legal reasons, certain rules were put in place.

There was a campus-wide curfew and students were prohibited from entering any vehicle other than public transport unless given a parent permission slip.

“I actually broke that [rule] twice,” Ballenger said.

Why Stanford?

Ballenger is intent on attending graduate school at Stanford, and has been since the seventh grade, because of its stellar Aerospace Engineering program.

“I don’t want to go to space,” Ballenger said. “That’s dangerous. I could die. No, I just want to send other people to space.”

Ballenger holds firm to the belief that space exploration could be what potentially saves humanity from itself.

According to him, the world, both scientific and political, could learn a lot about Earth and the environment through the make-up of other planets.

Space exploration—maybe colonization—is the future of the human race.

Ballenger’s current aspirations actually began with Legos, through which he learned of his natural aptitude for building and designing.

He would follow the given instructions at first, but within a few months he would take his creations apart and build something completely his own.

“If I had a design in my head, it wouldn’t be based off of directions. It would be—‘here’s how I want it to look’—and I’d put it together,” Ballenger said.

Ballenger’s affinity for building grew exponentially over the years. When choosing a career path, aerospace engineering seemed like the perfect combination of his favorite subjects.

“I liked building things, space is cool. What possible careers are there where I can do both? Oh, aerospace,” Ballenger said.

Dino DNA

Ballenger didn’t always want to be an engineer.

His younger sister, George Ballenger, recalled that he was, “obsessed with dinosaurs,” at a very young age.

“He still kind of is,” she said.

Growing up, Ballenger aspired to be an astro-paleontologist, which he used to refer to as “paleo-martian-tologist.”

Unfortunately, upon discovering that, “space dinosaurs,” were actually microbial life, the subject didn’t seem very interesting anymore.

Ballenger said Stanford proved to be an, “eye-opening experience.” He enjoyed getting a taste of what college might be like.


While Stanford is the ultimate endgame, Ballenger was never truly motivated to get there until recently. A bit of family history played into the drive.

“Both of my parents are fairly driven,” Ballenger said.

His mother, Rebecca Ballenger, began living on her own at 15. She supported herself while still attending school.

His father, who failed the eighth grade and was never considered a great student, now has a PhD.

“But they [my parents] have drive. So I have to, too,” Ballenger said.

While he won’t be attending Stanford this fall, Ballenger has already proven himself to be incredibally gifted.

“I just want to accomplish something cool.”

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Reaching for the stars: Ballenger vacations at Stanford University