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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Faith guides Upper Columbia senior Tom Asaki in school, beyond

Tom Asaki is a notable 2021 graduate of Upper Columbia Academy.  (Courtesy )
Tom Asaki is a notable 2021 graduate of Upper Columbia Academy. (Courtesy )

Tom Asaki understands why people make assumptions, but in his four years at Upper Columbia Academy, he’s appreciated the opportunity for students to get to know each other on a deeper level.

“Going through life, you have to make assumptions about people, to understand them,” he said. “Just wait a little bit and let yourself try and figure me out a little bit more before you start making those assumptions, because I feel like my personality is pretty unusual.”

The 18-year-old, who was born in New Mexico but grew up mostly in Moscow, Idaho, said his time at the Seventh Day Adventist boarding school near Spangle has helped him explore an eclectic range of interests.

“I’ve grown older, obviously, and there’s a lot that goes into just learning things,” he said. “The mechanics of social life, and also learning: What do I like? What do I dislike? Choosing to be me rather than what’s popular all the time.”

Above all, Asaki said, he likes writing – creating fictional worlds and complex, 3D characters. He’s also fascinated by science, and those interests align in the way he crafts stories.

“When I write, I try and understand what I’m writing. I don’t just try to put the words sort of like a Band-Aid over something I don’t understand,” he said. “I want to understand it, and science is a great way to understand a lot of the things around you. And if you want to create a world, understanding the science in this world is a good way to start.”

Joe Hess, vice principle for student life at Upper Columbia Academy, said Asaki has made an impression in his time at the school as a good listener who earnestly wants to help others.

“He’s very genuine,” Hess said. “When you stop and talk with him, you know he’s going to take it seriously. He wants to see how you’re doing and how he can be of help.”

Another thing he learned in his high school years, Asaki said, was to worry less about maintaining a 4.0 GPA and focus on learning.

“I’m less afraid of academic failure than I was going in,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve per se overcome it, but I don’t think I’m completely paralyzed by the idea of not doing good enough all the time – or what I deem ‘good enough.’ ”

His mother, Melanie Thongs, said she has come to appreciate her son’s approach to learning.

“He cares more about true understanding than he does about grades,” she said. “It’s a matter of personal integrity for him, and a little bit of annoyance for me, but that’s the way he chooses to work that particular aspect of life, and so I respect that.”

Thongs and Hess said Asaki’s decision to go to Upper Columbia, more than an hour from home, is a testament to his determination and faith. For Asaki, that faith is about more than just his commitment to God.

“We have faith in God, but also we have faith in each other,” he said. “If I trust somebody, that means I believe in them. And so I think faith is an everyday thing. I choose to believe in God. I choose to believe in the people around me.”

Like the decision to attend Upper Columbia Academy, Asaki said his college choice was guided by that faith. He plans to attend Walla Walla University, also an Adventist school, where he intends to study astronomy and engineering while continuing his writing.

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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