TOKYO — The daughter of a former Air Force officer is on her way to Brown University to pursue medical school, but she didn’t take the easy route to get there.
Naomi Jack, 18, graduated No. 1 in a class of 277 at Hiroo Gakuen Junior and Senior High School, a Japanese school in central Tokyo. She also received the school’s President’s Award, given to an “elite and model student,” at her graduation ceremony on March 5.
“She was an amazing student,” teacher Micah Wetzel told Stars and Stripes by phone Monday. “She always knew what she wanted to achieve and worked hard to achieve her goals. She was also willing to help other students.
Naomi attended Hiroo Gakuen after spending her elementary years at the Department of Defense Educational Activity Schools at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, where her father was a DOD employee until his retirement in 2016.
“I felt extremely elated after being accepted by Brown,” she told Stars and Stripes via email on March 23. “It felt like my lifelong passions and recognition of my hard work intersected in that moment.”
Naomi was born in Utah to Keiko Jack, a native of Chiba, Japan, and Lloyd Jack, an Air Force officer and native of Brooklyn, NY. The family was then stationed at Hill Air Force Base. When they moved to Yokota in 2004, Naomi attended kindergarten at a Japanese-run daycare.
Thereafter, Naomi attended Yokota West Elementary and Yokota Middle School until seventh grade, Lloyd Jack told Stars and Stripes via email on March 23.
He retired from the Air Force in 2010 as a lieutenant colonel and went to work as the civilian chief of plans and resources for the 374th Communications Squadron. He said the family decided to send their daughter back to the Japanese school system when he quit his civilian job in 2016. By then, Naomi had spent seven years at DODEA Schools.
“We are very proud and excited about the opportunities available to her at Brown University and the opportunity to pursue medical school, which is her passion,” said Lloyd Jack.
Naomi first went to Keimei Gakuen, a Christian school near Yokota for three years, then transferred to Hiroo Gakuen, a college preparatory school, where she took English and Japanese lessons.
“Being educated in the Japanese school system was difficult at first because of the classroom culture rather than the language,” Naomi said. “The system is very results-oriented. My school published the ranking of student exam results for each subject after the intermediate and final exams. »
Posting her scores for her peers to see was daunting at first, she said. “I was embarrassed that my peers judged me solely on my academic abilities.”
Naomi said she also quickly realized the limits of her ability to speak Japanese. But she turned those obstacles to her advantage.
“It was empowering and, honestly, surreal,” she said. “Throughout my time in a Japanese high school, there were many times when I doubted my abilities not only to excel academically, but also socially with my classmates due to my lack of confidence in my Japanese skills.”
Those doubts kept her from joining school clubs or trying out for leadership positions, Naomi said. Eventually, her Japanese improved, and during her freshman year, she interned at the International Institute of Meiji University and worked on a research project to find treatment options for Down Syndrome. Marfan, a debilitating genetic connective tissue disease.
“I realized that my cultural background and my experiences as an American student were an advantage because it allowed me to make connections and observations that were not as obvious to my Japanese peers,” said she declared.
In December, Naomi was accepted into the Class of 2026 in Liberal Medical Education, the undergraduate program that continues at Brown’s School of Medicine, the Ivy League School in Providence, RI.
She said the acceptance letter proves the value of self-confidence and her unique journey.
“I remember thinking back to my transfer journey to a Japanese school from a [DODEA] school and how that change in environment shaped who I became and led to what I accomplished,” she said.
Stars and Stripes reporter Mari Higa contributed to this report.