When Mt. Spokane senior Larry Chow walked into his senior presentation this spring dressed to impress in a suit, he was a different sight than the 13-year-old rebellious youth forced to enter SunHawk Academy, a rehabilitation facility in Utah, in 2004. And he didn’t look like the freshman entering Mt. Spokane High School four years ago, dressed, he said, like a gangster. He’s come a long way since then.
Growing up in Oakland, Calif., Chow’s childhood neighborhood was rough, said his aunt Julie Quon from her home in California. “Larry got in with the neighborhood kids. It wasn’t a good neighborhood. He got into the gangs and we sent him off to Utah.”
Nine months later his parents sent him to Tyler Ranch, a home for troubled boys in Spokane. That didn’t work out well and, after a brief stay in California, he and his dad moved back to Spokane where he enrolled at Mt. Spokane, leaving his friends and family behind.
“I started my life over again,” said Chow, explaining he studied and got decent grades but still argued a lot with his dad.
Then, this past October his dad died, and Chow’s focus shifted. He stayed in Spokane to graduate, living in an apartment by himself.
“His last wish for me was to finish school and go to college,” said Chow, who is planning to pursue a degree in law enforcement. “I want to pay back the community for my wrong doings – for the trouble I’ve caused – and inspire people.”
He already is.
“He has so much potential and he is, in his heart, one of the kindest students I’ve ever come across,” said Sara Ellerd, an English teacher at Mt. Spokane.
Ellerd described Chow as a young man of quiet elegance who approaches others with respectful reserve, listening, reflecting, learning and growing. “Many kids these days are so overboard, so dramatic. He is 10 years ahead of all the other kids in that way.”
Sometimes students tell him they would party if living alone, but Chow said he isn’t the party type because he sees things differently. “School is my first priority,” he said.
“He is more mature than me,” said Chow’s older sister, Lindsey Chow. “Dealing with my dad’s death and coping, I would have gone crazy.”
“This year is the year that I realized I have to do something with my life,” said Chow. “I don’t depend on anyone but myself. I would rather learn my way of life through hard times.”
“He has overcome a lot … I must commend him for doing a good job by himself,” said Quon. “He is smart enough to weed things out.”
“I think many young men in that situation would take advantage of being alone,” said Ellerd. “When you can do the right thing when no one is watching, that really shows your true character, and Larry has done the right thing when no one is watching. He pays his bills, makes sure he is eating well. He is (at school) every day. And he is still pursuing the dream that his family had for him that wasn’t his dream but has become his dream.”
Chow’s dad would be proud of him, according to family and faculty. “Joe would be proud that his son cleaned up, that he has finished high school, that he has attained that goal, that he has made it to 18 without getting shot or killed,” said Quon.
“Not having my dad yelling at me, I miss that a lot,” said Chow. He described their relationship as “very hot and hard-headed” but knows now his dad loved him and wanted the best for him.
“He and his dad butted heads,” said Ellerd, “but after all of that struggling he got it. He understood what his family had done for him. He became the softer Larry. He was no longer a juvenile boy who had his issues with his family and fought against growing up. He became a man.”