Senior Speeches: Akari Shimizu

April 24, 2018

And next time you are incapable of plowing through a wall I want to encourage you to look around the wall.

Each year, seniors at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School deliver a speech to their peers on a topic of their choosing in the Newhall Auditorium. Often equal parts clever and moving, emotional and personal, each speech offers a glimpse into the lives, experiences, struggles, and triumphs of SSM seniors.

Throughout the 2017-18 school year, we will share these speeches with the SSM community and hope that you enjoy the humor, wisdom, and powerful reflections conveyed by our senior students.


Akari Shimizu


Four years ago, I stood on a sidewalk in the hot sun of Kailua Kona, Hawaii. With my white aloha shirt and jeans, I felt formal … very formal compared to my usual soccer shorts and t-shirt. I clenched six fundraising letters in my hand as I walked into local businesses. I was nervous, and I remember I was constantly reminding myself to loosen my grip before I crushed the letters. I was a fourteen-year-old girl with a crazy passion for soccer and an equally crazy determination to succeed.

I started soccer at age four because it was a cheap sport and my parents liked the fact that I would knock out in sleep after practice. I immediately fell in love with kicking the ball and grew up dreaming of becoming a professional soccer player. At the start of high school, I realized that three major obstacles stood in the way of me realizing my dream: distance to higher level soccer on the mainland; money to practice in a higher level environment; and the need for me to network with coaches, parents, and teammates. I knew I would have to network for myself since my parents were from Japan and spoke very little English.

I was determined to get around these challenges. I started by organizing small-scale fundraisers. My mother would help me make baked goods, bento boxes, and spam musubis to sell. I also worked out an exchange with my soccer club. They would waive my costly participation fee in exchange for me coaching the 4-6 year old team. Finally, I learned what it meant to network and self-advocate. I emailed and spoke with coaches, teachers, and parents, and I asked local businesses for financial support. I drafted my own letters and had my English teacher check them for grammar. All of this work is still paying off. A year ago I was invited to the U18 Women’s National Team Domestic Training Camp in Chula Vista, California, where I had the honor of being the first female athlete from the Big Island ever to be invited. To all of you, I would say you can create opportunities like that too if you remember this lesson I am about to tell you.

This experience taught me the true feeling of gratitude. Whether they were strangers buying baked goods, friends buying bento boxes, or local businesses providing me with sponsorships, I was awestruck every time someone bought my goods or donated to support me. I felt the support of my entire community behind me. I am also incredibly grateful for my family. I feel so blessed, and I am driven to work hard not just for myself but for all those who believe in me.

The valuable lesson I have learned from this journey can be summed up in the phrase; “If you can’t go through, go around.” Challenges are like walls. In life we are faced with many walls. Our initial instinct is to try to plow right through them, only to find that we are incapable. The trick to a successful life is to remember there is always a way around the wall. I have learned to apply this lesson to all aspects of my life, even to soccer. When the defenders overcrowd an area of the field, I know I cannot force the ball through them. The defenders are multiple walls creating a solid shape, and my challenge is to find a way around them with the help of my teammates. Soccer is a game of beating a shape, of finding creative ways around walls, just like our daily lives.

I will never forget my sweaty palms and the heartbeat in my ears as I clenched my letters in the hot sun that day four years ago. Now I find myself feeling comfortable in these khakis and polo. The journey I have been on since that day has taught me the true meaning of humility and gratitude. Most importantly, it has shown me the powerful results that I can achieve by remembering that there are multiple ways to reach my goals. I just need to have the courage to look around the wall. And next time you are incapable of plowing through a wall I want to encourage you to look around the wall. Mahalo.


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