A Poignant Journey

By Alison Damast | Fall 2014

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Takashi Yanagi lost his mother, his house and his security while still in high school. From this unimaginable tragedy, he forged a determination to continue his dream to attend Notre Dame.

At first glance, Takashi Yanagi didn’t seem all that different from all the other high school students at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa. A model student, he attended classes, took piano lessons and volunteered at the local hospital. 

Unbeknownst to his fellow students and teachers, his home life was in shambles. His mother, Emi Yanagi, who was raising her son alone, had been diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer midway through his junior year of high school. As her condition worsened, he became her sole caretaker, assuming all the household responsibilities she had previously handled, from shopping for groceries to paying the bills. It was several months before his teachers and guidance counselor learned of his predicament. 

“I didn’t really want to talk about it,” said Yanagi. “I just went through the motions of going to school and doing my homework. I felt like a robot back then. I couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening and how my life was going to be afterwards.”

Yanagi is now a junior studying finance at Mendoza College. He’s soft-spoken, smart and driven, like so many of his classmates. People who do know about his story of facing down heartache, loss and financial challenges at such a young age—so unlike many of his classmates—usually haven’t heard it from him. But it’s clear that the lessons he learned during that time have proved invaluable as he’s navigated Notre Dame, fulfilling his mother’s dreams of her only son attending college at a top-ranked university. 

He credits his success in life to his mother, a software developer at John Deere and a single mother who raised him by herself for 13 years. “She was the strongest woman I knew,” he said. “She struggled every week to provide for us.”