Coming together to heal – Natural Self Esteem

Lakas Shimizu was a gentle warrior, a deeply caring, generous and empathetic young man who had a gift for bringing people together. Lakas passed away unexpectedly at the tender age of eight. As he recalls, his family—parents Dan Shimizu and Celine Parreñas Shimizu, brother Bayan Shimizu, and grandfather Robert Shimizu—established a scholarship to UC Santa Cruz. The scholarship honors the spirit of Lakas by supporting art students who engage in artistic and creative scholarly practice, bringing people together to advocate for inclusion and justice.

Lakas was always interested in helping people and making them feel included, his parents share. He would do anything to make friends with new kids at school and had a special talent for making people feel welcome. “He made bringing people together fun!” He was also the peer-chosen “judge” in his elementary school playground – other students turned to him to decide when there were problems or disagreements.

“Lakas had a very strong sense of justice and was absolutely fearless when it came to implementation,” says his mother Celine. “He had an unwavering self-acceptance and self-expression in a world where there is such a hierarchy as what a leader looks like.”

When Lakas was six years old, he told his parents that it was his dream for everyone to be treated equally.

“Lakas had an eight-year-old’s natural awareness of race and differences,” says his father Dan. “When he drew self-portraits, he always gave himself dark skin. He internalized that he is a colored person without saying it directly. Had he been older, he would have been interested in promoting diversity. He didn’t have the words diversity and inclusion, but he would have been all in.”

“Lakas was a very special person,” says his grandfather Robert Shimizu. “We were lucky to have him in our lives. Lakas took care of people and brought them together. This scholarship celebrates who he could have been by helping other people achieve their hopes and dreams.”

A scholarship that reflects the spirit of Lakas

The family wants to help transform the possibilities for scholars by ensuring that finances are not a barrier for students pursuing higher education in the arts.

“Equal access to education is very important to us,” says Celine. “At the time (Lakas died) we were living in Hillsborough, California. It’s a very affluent community and yet across the street, directly across from El Camino, it’s a very different neighborhood. There is poverty, there is hunger, there is homelessness. It’s not visible to everyone, but it’s something Lakas is really concerned about.”

The family hopes the scholarship will create opportunities for UCSC Arts students. Celine Parreñas Shimizu joined UC Santa Cruz in July 2021 as Dean of the Arts Department and Distinguished Professor of Film and Digital Media. She brings a passion for continuing the department’s culture of welcoming students as professional artists as soon as they step onto campus. She encourages students to delve deep into their pain, suffering, joy, and differences to create art that matters to them.

Lakas drew on his strengths, he understood the responsibility of becoming great and realizing what you are good at. The family says they learned so much from him, and the spirit of scholarship in his memory reflects that. They want to reinforce his approach to valuing being together and doing great things in a way that invites a person to be themselves.

Help the students find their role

“Using that to get by, to survive, to make a difference in the world just because you’re alive. I think about that a lot with our students,” says Celine. “If we’re going to have them for just a few years, they need a strong sense of how to get involved in a way that’s unique to them after school. If this scholarship can help them get that sense of security and certainty about how they are going to get ahead in the world, knowing that they are going to meet losses – that they are going to meet obstacles and the scholarship gives them the strength to do them to overcome – then how truly wonderful is that?”

Celine was a political asylum seeker and refugee and says she relied on the charity of others when she came to the United States as a child. Scholarships enabled her to get an education. Philanthropy has always been important to Dan’s family, and she learned from them.

“The importance of our family’s philanthropy has increased since Lakas passed away,” she says. “We want to continue the donation spirit of Lakas. It feels so good to give to others. Instead of hoarding resources, it’s important to share them. And do it purposefully, with purpose.”

Dan agrees, adding, “Helping others is a way of consciously promoting the things we believe in.”

“A big part of the gift for us is being able to envision Lakas here and let his spirit flow through the community and allow other people to flourish,” says Celine.

To contribute to UCSC in these and other ways, please contact Sarah Schuster Kudela at schuster@ucsc.edu.

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