As a University High School senior and Eastern Washington University Running Start student, Cindy Wu has already lived on her own. Really alone.
Her mother moved out of town two years ago and her father died last summer after being in Taiwan for a year for treatment of gastric cancer. He traveled there because both parents are originally from Taiwan. For a while Wu lived in the family home alone, getting up every day and going to school on her own. “I was responsible,” she said, while admitting her living arrangements weren’t the best.
Lyle and Margaret Freeman, parents of one of her friends, offered her a place to live in their home. “They treat me like their child, in a way,” Wu said. “I don’t know where I’d be without them.”
Her family began to unravel when she and her mother, Huifen Chiu, became obsessed with playing the computer game World of Warcraft. Chiu got to know a fellow player and eventually moved to New Mexico with him. Wu sounds wise beyond her years when discussing how her parents’ marriage dissolved. “My mom and my dad didn’t fit well together,” she said.
Wu said she’s not upset with her mother for leaving, even though at times she didn’t know where her mother was. “She felt like I was mature enough to handle things,” she said. “She’s the one who tutored me in math and gave me the skills I have today.”
Wu’s father, Steven Wu, returned to Spokane Valley last summer to sell the house and move some belongings back to Taiwan with him. “I hung out with him a lot,” she said.
Unexpectedly, her father got sicker. “I don’t think he thought he was going to die,” she said. “I basically stayed with him the last couple days.”
The Freemans were there as she kept watch over her father as he lay dying in the hospital. They brought her food and checked up on her. “They’ll always be family to me,” she said.
School started up again only two days after her father died and Wu threw herself into her classes. “I think I compartmentalize,” said Wu, one of two U-Hi valedictorians. “School helped divert my mind.”
She had all her senior year classes at EWU after being a part-time Running Start student her junior year. “I did not really enjoy high school that much,” she said. She wanted to take college classes to help her figure out what to do with her life and also found that she relates to older students better than her peers, probably because of her maturity. “I like the environment and I have friends here.”
The work itself isn’t much harder than high school, she said. “In some ways AP classes are a little bit harder. College classes give you a greater depth in the material.”
She’s taken a lot of general courses and is convinced that her future is in math. “Other classes, it seems like my brain isn’t as stimulated,” she said.
However, she isn’t sure what she’ll do with her math major. “Maybe an engineer like my dad,” she said. “Math has a lot of doors. I want to get a Ph.D. like my dad.”
She seems to be well on her way. She’s been accepted at Gonzaga University for the fall and her high grades earned her enough scholarships to attend for free.
“School is your best way to get out of any mess,” she said. “Opportunity will still come your way.”