By CATHY BUSSEWITZ
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Elvis Wong is an ambitious high school senior by any measure.
He’s captain of Casa Grande High’s award-winning academic decathlon team, co-editor-in-chief of the school newspaper and a volunteer on annual missionary trips to Mexico through his church.
But the challenges Wong faces in his demanding final year of high school weigh more heavily on his shoulders than most because he’s doing it all while his family is hundreds of miles away. Still, Wong maintains high grades and a healthy perspective on life and runs just about every day to relieve stress.
“I just sort of take it one step at a time,” he said.
Wong was a sophomore when his father was laid off as an engineer at Tellabs in Petaluma. After months of searching unsuccessfully for a job nearby, Wong’s father expanded his search and found a position in Valencia in Southern California. Originally, his father moved south alone and visited his family in Petaluma for one day every three weeks. Eventually, the rest of the family decided it would be best to move south with him.
“Our family was kind of broken up,” Wong said. “But I just couldn’t handle leaving Petaluma during my junior year. I don’t like change, so I just straight-up said, ‘No, I don’t want to move.’<TH>”
Instead, Wong stayed behind, renting a room in the house where his whole family once lived and sharing space with family friends who moved in. But Wong had to learn to do his own laundry, shop for groceries and make sure he had enough gas in the car and money in his wallet to get through the week.
“It was rough,” Wong said. “I was 16, and it was really hard to get used to not having your family with you, that support group.”
Rather than focus on the difficulty, Wong is busy with dozens of activities, from running on the cross-country team to completing college applications.
“Because Elvis had made many commitments, he wanted to stay here and honor them. But it’s been hard on him and his family,” said Gay Robbins, who teaches Wong’s journalism class. “He never ever complains or says anything negative about it at all.”
As leader of the academic decathlon team, Wong spent the week before the county competition studying this year’s topic, the Great Depression, for about 12 hours a day. And the hard work paid off: <NO1><NO>Casa Grande took the county title for the 27th year in a row.
Contestants competed by writing essays, performing speeches and answering quiz questions about arts, music and every historical aspect of the Depression. In his research, Wong noticed some parallels to today.
“The Roaring Twenties was a time when so many people were caught up with the fact that it was so easy to get money,” Wong said. “They didn’t necessarily know what they were doing. It’s this idea of materialism that’s still here today.”
Wong’s attitude towards materialism crystallized on his missionary trips to Mexico, where he traveled with dozens of other members of Sunset Church in San Francisco to provide meals and gifts to families before Christmas.
He said the trips taught him that trendy gifts, such as computers, coveted by so many Americans aren’t nearly as important to him as spending time with his family. Wong still drives to San Francisco every Sunday to attend church.
At school, Wong is busy at the Gaucho Gazette, the school’s monthly newspaper. Wong won an award in 2010 for sports photography.
Wong said his dream job would be a photographer for National Geographic, but he said the competitiveness in that field make that goal a stretch. He’s also considering majoring in media design, mass communications, urban design or architectural engineering.
As Wong goes through his busy days, honoring his many commitments, he thinks of his father as an inspiration.
“He sets goals for himself, and he just keeps working on it,” Wong said. “He’s presented with these struggles, but he doesn’t falter . . . he still remains strong even in times of weakness.”
You can Reach Staff Writer Cathy Bussewitz at 521-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Birthplace: Ottawa, Canada
Family: Father, William; mother, Linda; brothers Matheus, 16, and Aries, 20.
What’s in his iPod: Gospel, Christian rock, techno, rap and rock music. “Pretty much every type of music, except screamo.”
Favorite group hobby: Ultimate Frisbee
Dream job: Photographer for National Geographic
Favorite TV show: “Chuck”
Favorite food: Everything
Quote: “Just powering through even the toughest times, that’s something you’ve got to do in life.”