With outstanding academic records, Monta Vista High School looks just like a prep school to the general public. That inevitably puts pressure on Monta Vista students to earn admissions from top research universities. But to Curtis Gatley, a 2009 graduate, the pressure meant nothing. He always knew he would take a different path.
Gatley, who won a in 2009 for his impressive records of community service, is currently a theology major at Withworth University, a private, liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, located in Spokane, Washington.
"My parents supported my decision, though they knew a theology major probably wouldn't be able to help them with their future retirement," says Gatley. "I'm very grateful."
Gatley says he always felt God was with him through his childhood and adolescence, so he chose to reciprocate by studying theology in order to become a pastor.
However, Gatley doesn't belong to any of the Christian denominations. He believes in a cross-denominational service to God.
"I don't want any division between myself and others," he says.
This belief keeps Gatley close to his three siblings, who are not Christians, and he doesn't try to convert them.
"Relationships cannot be forced, " says Gately. "I think the relationship with God is the same. God's love in me is so strong that I care for everyone, including non-Christians."
When Gatley started studying theology, he set his goal on a cross-denominational mission to Japan after graduation. But the recent 9.0 earthquake in Japan made him plan to go there sooner.
"I feel a real hunger and need for them (the Japanese) to feel God's love," says Gatley. "After completing my sophomore year, I'll try to take a year off to bring hope and healing to those who suffer health problems or other losses caused by earthquake."
According to Gatley, his desire to go to Japan began early thanks to lots of exposure to Asian cultures in Cupertino. He grew up with some close friends of Japanese ethnicity.
"My parents blame it on my crush in elementary school," he says half-jokingly.
Gatley took Japanese classes at Monta Vista, and went to Japan once during his sophomore year of high school. He also visited Mexico during his high school years with a church group to mentor underpriviledged children.
The mentoring program took place during Mexico's school spring break, the week before Easter, which didn't coincide with Monta Vista's. Gatley had to take time off school, but he didn't mind studying hard to catch up later. He did it repeatedly, and that was one of the reasons why he won the Justin Perkins Sandlot Award.
About the award that recognizes young people's community service, Gatley says, "It's pretty beautiful to award people not based on measurable things such as GPAs, not for any agenda, but just for caring."
In Gatley's view, high school students in Cupertino are often under too much academic pressure to keep compassion in mind, though their competition doesn't do real harm.
"The competition is not cut-throat. No one is trying to hurt others. Everyone is just working on self-enhancement," says Gatley. "But when you focus on advancing yourself, you may forget to take care of others. It's not intentional, but a by-product."
Gatley suggests removing the by-product by cultivating a heart of compassion.
"Sometimes you should step back and see what others need," he says. "Life is not all about independence. Sometimes it's about depending on the right people, and on God."
To learn more about Curtis Gatley and his work, visit the web page Sandlot Hero.