“Academics alone do not define your success…Now is the time to take pride in your feats and to revel in your future; but do not get complacent. What you really need to do is believe in yourself and get moving.” -Yoo Shin Tanai

This June, the Family Peace Association community in New York/New Jersey had the opportunity to celebrate the success of high school graduate Yoo Shin Tanai.

According to those close to him, Yoo Shin’s passion for service and leadership on top of his academic aptitude is what makes him so successful. Throughout his time in high school, Yoo Shin helped coordinate volunteer projects with Habitat for Humanity of Westchester, played improvised jazz piano at local cafe with his best friends, traveled to St. Louis, MO for a robotics competition and Houston, TX for a science research competition, was a CVA (Core Value Academy) teacher, and participated in many other activities including school plays, swimming, cross country, biking, and hiking.

Yoo Shin and family at Ossining High School Graduation

Referred to by his father as a “super high schooler,” Yoo Shin graduated with honors as his class salutatorian, delivering heartfelt congratulations to his peers and a message of determination to not be complacent even in celebration.

“Academics alone do not define your success… There are so many things in our lives that we cannot control: the place we are born, our family situation, the political climate, and whatever else the world throws at us. But how we deal with those environmental factors is what distinguishes us from everyone else. Being Japanese-American has greatly influenced my life and has left me in between two different cultural spheres. When I went to Japan, I was considered American; here I am considered Asian. I didn’t choose to be born to two Japanese parents in America but I am truly grateful and it has defined who I am.

Each of us have our own stories and backgrounds and life will throw challenges at us but after maturing, I’ve realized that I have been extremely blessed to be proficient in another language and to understand a vastly different culture. Deciding to see my background as a valuable lesson has strongly shaped my attitude to all sorts of issues. Our individual experiences interwoven into a collective enables us to understand varying perspectives. Each of us has things that make us feel distanced or isolated from everyone else, but it’s important to get over those differences.

Now is the time to take pride in your feats and to revel in your future; but do not get complacent. What you really need to do is believe in yourself and get moving. Our next challenge is how to contribute to society, whether it is through college, getting a job, or serving our country. But recognize that life is going to throw old lemons at your face and you’re not going to make good lemonade with them. Pick them up, clean up the mess and throw a smile back on your face.”