MaryAlice Parks '04 Berns it Up
by Maya Arigala ‘16
I’ve met some very impressive alumni over my four years at Annie Wright, but none so eloquent, interesting, and down to earth as Class of ‘04 alumna turned ABC journalist MaryAlice Parks.
When I first got on the line with Parks, I was a little nervous. A last minute scheduling change had me sending a text underneath the table in the front row of Mrs. Schwartz’s biology class, and the tentative typing left my palms a little shaky. She opened with a hello, and paused our conversation to order a ginger ale, giving me a moment to recover from my embarrassment at responding to her greeting by asking her how she was… three times.
The conversation flowed a little more naturally after that. Parks and I took a second to bond over the fact that we were both Blue Ties, which segued pretty neatly into a discussion about how her Annie Wright experience prepared her for a career in journalism. Parks spoke of the writing-intensive Annie Wright curriculum as a huge asset in the formation of her career, and said that the rigorous program has ended up serving her “exceptionally well.” Parks also mentioned her background in theater at Annie Wright, and to the vocal culture of Annie Wright students in general. “It changes who you are, your ability to prepare for public speaking, to be confident talking in front of other people,” she said. “I feel very fortunate that that was a part of my upbringing.”
We then transitioned into a conversation about Parks’s experience personally knowing Senator and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and her opportunity to see his behavior both on and off the debate stage. Sanders is often described as an atypical politician, and his campaign has a very home-grown, genuine feel to it. After observing this over the course of the last few months, I was curious to know whether Sanders’s presidential persona echoed the manner in which he carries himself day to day.
Parks gave a very nuanced answer – yes and no. “Whether he’s just talking to a small group of reporters or on the big debate stage, he is the same kind of argumentative, sometimes aggressive, and very passionate speaker,” she said.
Parks has also, however, had the opportunity to witness him in softer, more human moments, and recalls a charming anecdote at Boston Logan airport in which Senator Sanders, extremely tired at the time, asked if they just could have a cup of coffee off the record. “I’ve seen different sides of him, but I would say that for a politician, he’s shockingly consistent in who he is,” she said.
After establishing that the image of Sanders’s homegrown campaign is genuine, I inquired about the process of watching Bernie Sanders go from a relatively unknown senator to a major Presidential candidate. “It’s been incredible to watch the grass roots support behind him,” Parks answered, before going on to talk about how the campaign, “a ragtag group of folks from Vermont,” would not have developed in the manner it did without the enthusiasm of the volunteers behind them. When the campaign went national, Sanders had volunteers already on the ground, which helped it quickly grow and gain momentum. Parks talked about how, in the beginning, the campaign staff didn’t know how to plan events for crowds as big as those turning out for Bernie, and had to bring in people who had previously worked on the Obama campaign for assistance.
Parks also described how interesting it was to watch Sanders adapt to having secret service following him around and having to notify them every time he wants to do anything like go to a coffee shop. She contrasted his experience with Hillary Clinton, who, as a former first lady, has had the secret service following her around for three decades.
In order to get a more holistic view of Parks’s experience of covering Sanders’s campaign, I asked her about her most memorable moments and experiences on the trail. She describe several smaller, more personal moments in her journey, beginning with a story about visiting a mosque with Senator Sanders and being subjected to his awkward, grandpa-type joking: “Oh, that’s a good look for you,” when she put on a headscarf. She also described an experience where Sanders was sitting in a diner and getting so annoyed by all the cameras that he turned, looked directly into Parks’s camera, and said, “You want the scoop? The scoop is tuna fish sandwich on rye. You got it ABC?”
Parks closed these memories with a story about going trick-or-treating with Sanders and his grandkids on halloween, and watching the surprise on people’s faces when they opened their front doors and saw a Presidential candidate on their porches. “There are really big moments too,” she said. “It’s been incredible to cover the Iowa caucus and it’s been incredible to race around the state and the country, but in some ways I will probably cherish the more personal, small moments.”
To close out our interview, I asked a few slightly more personal questions about Parks’s career as a whole. She relayed a humorous detail about how, while she didn’t figure out she wanted to be a journalist right away, her family and her Annie Wright teachers, especially Mrs. Gettel and Mrs. Bauska, had known it all along. Parks also offered some sound advice for other young women interested in pursuing journalism: have a versatile skill set and be willing to put yourself out there. She described a profile of a typical Annie Wright girl who is ready to introduce herself to total strangers and adapt to different environments, and cites these skills as major assets in her career today.
After this, Parks inquired about my college and career plans, and we informally chatted for a bit about my dauntingly uncertain future - which seemed a little less daunting after speaking to someone who comes from a background so similar to mine and has managed to achieve my dream life. Before we said our goodbyes, Parks asserted that I should feel free to reach out to her and ask for advice on my career or schooling options at any time, and though I shuddered at the thought of how meticulously I would proofread any email I sent to her, I was happy to agree to keep in touch.
This article was originally published in Inkwell, Annie Wright Upper School’s newspaper. Maya will attend Reed College in Portland this fall.