Jeff Pu’u and His Uphill Battle

February 22, 2019

Jeff Pu’u always carries around a wide, vibrant smile, spreading from cheek to cheek and worn down, un-tied Kobe 9’s. Along with his smile and shoes is his positive energy. You can’t walk past Jeff without receiving a bro hug and a handshake asking how your day is going. Always picking others up, Jeff is a man of the people.

Now a leader of Young Brothers and a star on the basketball team, Jeff is thriving with his extracurriculars and academics. But the journey to this point wasn’t easy.

A cold, white bed. Hundreds of tubes connected in all places. Two crying parents. Jeff neared death at the age of five. With the smell of stale metal and seeing asbestos wherever he looked, Jeff didn’t know what was going on. As a little kid, all he wanted was some hot chocolate and saltine crackers. But his parents were extremely worried,  “My mother and father didn’t really have hope.” He wasn’t supposed to survive. But a pastor and close friend to his family gave them hope, “After every Sunday church when I was in the hospital, [he would buy] McDonald’s and we would eat as a family.” This gesture and selfless act by his pastor has been a memory Jeff has held onto his whole life. When Jeff was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, his family did just that. Always by his side, whether in the hospital or being the loudest fans at his basketball games, they are always there.

Thankfully, Jeff persevered and was deemed cancer-free just a year later. Looking back on nearing death, Jeff is thankful for every day he has in this world and the people around him who have gotten him to this point.

 

Jeff as a young boy at a family gathering. (Courtesy of Jeff)

Whenever I asked him about himself, he always responded by thanking someone else. “How did you get to MA?”, his first answer was, “I want to thank Sally Matsuishi” the NGS (Next Generation Scholars) director who helped him get into MA. “She’s the reason I am at MA.” Jeff could’ve mentioned the countless hours he has put in, or the hardships he has experienced, but instead, he first decided to just say thank you.

A humble guy, who deserves more credit than he gives himself.

Experiencing many struggles growing up and leading up to MA, Jeff hasn’t had it easy. Jeff struggled during his transition to MA, “Looking at my grades before, you could definitely see how hard it was for me…I wasn’t used to going in and talking to my teachers and I wasn’t used to getting lots of material at once, and then expected to actually do it.” Jeff needed to get used to the worth ethic and know it was ok to ask for help. Back at Davidson middle school “there was a culture around where you had to either know how to do it yourself or struggle to do it. There’s no way for asking for help.”

Jeff’s struggles started to show in his grades. With basketball almost every day of the week, and still having to get used to MA’s academics, Jeff had to make a sacrifice. That sacrifice was basketball, as he left the team to focus on school. This wasn’t easy. Basketball was and still is Jeff’s life. It is his way to cope with anger and anxiety, and just be away from everything else. Leaving the team was not easy, but was necessary for Jeff to get acclimated to Marin Academy life.

There was a point during high school tenure where Jeff wanted to give up. Why am I here? I can’t even play basketball? But countless teachers and friends have only been supportive of Jeff, such as Anayansi, “She was always there to encourage me. She’s one of the main reasons why I am still here.” Jeff also mentioned mentors such as Shawn Cole and Nghiem as important people in his life on campus that have helped him not only succeed at school but also be happy in general.

In addition to the support he has experienced at school, he has a very strong family dynamic at home. Living with 12 other cousins and siblings, he has always had a safe place to come home to. “Having a big family around [me], they always support and remind me that I can do anything… that’s basically what made me who I am today. Just being a nice kid and someone everyone can go to…that’s what I was raised to be.”

With constant support at home and at school, Jeff has found other methods to put his energy towards to make his experience at MA better and more impactful. Such activities are leading the club: Young Brothers, and mastering photography in his photo class. Now back on the basketball team, Jeff is helping lead the team to one of its best seasons yet. Jeff expressed how important it is having basketball in his life, “The reason why I found basketball to be the most successful for me was that it allowed me to express my emotions… it sort of just allowed me to harness that, that negative energy and put it towards something positive.” This is a strong tool many don’t have. Being able to delegate that frustration, and put it towards something positive is key. Putting that energy towards photography, club, and basketball has paid extreme dividends.

 

A piece from one of Jeff’s photography projects, a new passion of his. (Courtesy of Jeff)

Now almost a year away from graduating high school, Jeff is starting to think about college. When I brought up the topic and what motivates him, he went straight to talking about his father. Working 17 hours a day, his dad does everything he can do “in order for [he and his siblings] to go to college and achieve [their] dreams.” He said, “ I can never repay him for all he has done, but I could achieve his own dream of going to college…he went straight to the army after High School…and eventually one day I can just walk up to my dad and say thank you.”

Jeff with his father, celebrating his Samoan culture. (Courtesy of Jeff)

Jeff, a dedicated hard worker who has turned his life around, is surely on his way to reach his dad’s and his own dream. Now thriving with school, a star on the basketball team, Jeff is only going up from here.

 

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