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Amidst tragedy, student completes his dream

Taka Ito will graduate April 28, with degrees in Accounting, Finance, and Marketing.

Taka Ito will graduate April 28, with majors in Accounting, Finance, and Marketing.

Takayuki Ito's world changed during Spring Break last year. While he and his brother traveled in Puerto Rico, he first saw the footage of his hometown of Minamisoma, in Japan's Fukushima Prefecture, after it had been devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which killed an estimated 20,000 people in Japan. 

Making it worse: The two brothers didn't hear news of the fate of their parents and grandmother until several worry-filled days later.

They eventually learned that their family made it out of town safely, and that their house -- where Taka's family had lived for generations -- survived. The tragedy continued, though: Minamisoma soon became an evacuation zone because of fallout from the failed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Taka watched these crises from the FLC campus, more than 8,000 miles away. He couldn't even go back to help his family, because there was too little room in the temporary government housing his family had been relocated to.

On top of all that, all this unfolded as Taka was approaching the last year of a mission he'd given himself: to earn three Business degrees in four years. In his three years on that mission at Fort Lewis College, he'd also founded two clubs, was president of another student organization, and participated in the Beta Alpha Psi accounting honor society.

The disaster in Japan challenged that mission. But the spirit of engagement and fortitude that had brought him to within a year of his achieving his goal is also what helped him start healing and push on toward his goal. "To me, it was like, now there is no going back. I knew I was on my own," he remembers. "So I had to be persistent and focus on my studies here in the U.S. to pull off my goals no matter what."

But that didn't mean he couldn't somehow help his country. So he coordinated a series of fundraisers with the Japan Club, raising and donating about $5,000 to Direct Relief International. "The fundraising certainly helped me focus on the things that are important with school and around me, instead of just worrying about my family and hometown."

He then had another challenge, though: Funding the last year of his education. This time, Taka's college and community stepped up to help him: Some FLC staff and faculty arranged to help pay for, along with a donation from an anonymous community member, his tuition, books, and some expenses. Also, School of Business Administration professor Paul McGurr gave Taka a job house-sitting while he was away on sabbatical, so Taka had a place to live and a car to get to and from school.

"I felt like I could achieve anything, because I felt like people would support me," he says. "I found that Fort Lewis College is a great school because so many people here are caring, and because there are so many different kinds of people who really want to get  to know and help each other."

Thanks to his spirit and that support, Taka will be receiving a Bachelor's degree with three majors -- Accounting, Finance, and Marketing -- at Spring Convocation on Saturday, April 28. Four years after he started his journey.

And other good things have come to Taka in his Senior year, as well. In November he attended a job fair in Boston that featured Japanese companies, and a week later was offered a position with international accounting firm Hotta Liesenberg Saito. He begins work in their Indianapolis office in June.

Also, Taka was finally able to return to Japan over Winter break. The experience was, of course, sad and challenging. His family is still relocated because of continuing radiation danger in his town. And his family learned that the factory in town where both his parents worked doesn't have enough work to employ his parents.

The trip was a hard reminder of what's going on outside his world. But the visit also coalesced for Taka what he was able to learn, so far, from the difficult year he and his family had faced.

"My home did not feel like home at all. I realized then that it is not my hometown anymore," he explains. "Fortunately or unfortunately, my visit also helped me realize that blaming other things does not really help you get out of difficulties. Unfortunately, bad things do happen that are not your fault. But you have to keep looking at and working for the good things still possible in the future."

Support Direct Relief International's efforts in Japan.

Learn more about the School of Business Administration at Fort Lewis College.

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