“Mr. Shimazaki allowed me to open up completely and gave me his own life precepts to make me feel better."


Student Avishi Agastwar

Mr. Shozo Shimazaki teaches Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer to his junior year American Literature students at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, CA.

Into the Wild tells the story of Chris McCandless who, at age 24, trekked into the Alaskan wilderness and ultimately died of either starvation or poisoning from toxic or moldy seeds. The jury’s still out. The book is a popular one to teach in high school as it prompts vibrant discussions on transcendentalism and how McCandless’s own credos conflicted with those of traditional society.

Mr. Shimazaki is big on credos. His own. Chris McCandless’s. And those of his students. So much so that his big end-of-the-year assignment is for each student to develop her/his/their own credo and present it to the class.

Avishi Agastwar remembers that assignment fondly. She remembers a lot of things fondly about Mr. Shimazaki, but let’s start with the credo assignment. Formulating her own credo required Avishi to deeply examine her values, to decide what beliefs are most important to her, what beliefs she lives by.

Avishi didn’t take the easy road while completing the assignment. That’s not how she approaches life. And she certainly didn’t choose one of the usual bromides: Just Do It or Be Kind or Pay it Forward. Rather, Avishi’s credo is so expansive it’s comprised of six prevailing values:

  • The most important relationship in your life is the one with yourself.
  • Spread love, kindness, and positivity.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others.
  • Challenge yourself.
  • Don’t forget the importance of family and friends.
  • No one is immune to struggle and neither are you.

She described what each one of those values means to her. She believes, for instance, one should, “Get rid of hate in your life and try to spread love and kindness wherever you go.” And that “Obstacles will come in your way and you shouldn’t let that discourage or dishearten you. Let them be a learning experience for you and find ways to rise above them.” One of her favorite quotes is by Glennon Doyle, “If you can’t beat fear, just do it scared.”

Another big belief of Avishi’s is what a wonderful, caring teacher Mr. Shimazaki is.

“We don’t read literature only for the academic skills; there’s also a higher purpose. I try to make connections to the world or to my students’ lives as well."


Shozo Shimazaki

Mr. Shimazaki taught Avishi during her junior year. She had approached him for help in class and ended up sharing personal challenges she was facing. “I was going through emotional setbacks and had the pressure to succeed academically. I asked myself: ‘Is it okay to feel like this?’ ‘Can I be openly vulnerable, or would that make me look weak?’ ‘Is it okay to not be okay?’” In Mr. Shimazaki she found an open ear, a support system, a source of encouragement, and a friend.

“Mr. Shimazaki allowed me to open up completely and gave me his own life precepts to make me feel better…I felt like I could be completely myself, vulnerable and fearless, without judgment.” She says he’s “exceptionally compassionate and that he goes the extra mile for students.”

So that’s exactly what Avishi decided to do for him in return. Wanting Mr. Shimazaki to be an “unsung hero” no longer, she started researching awards for teachers and found Honored through an internet search. She nominated him because she wanted to show him, in a concrete way, what an “incredible impact” he’d had on her life.

And it wasn’t only with her personal struggles that Mr. Shimazaki made an impression upon Avishi. It was academically as well.

Mr. Shimazaki has been teaching for 27 years. He was inspired to become a teacher by teachers he himself had in high school. One teacher in particular, whom Mr. Shimazaki remembers as very “thoughtful,” didn’t just teach the books they were studying, he taught the larger meanings and how those related to students’ lives and life in general. That teacher “challenged us to say what we would do in a particular situation we were reading about in a story and asked us if we’d ever faced a situation like that in our own lives. He wasn’t presenting the book as here’s what you need to read and we’re going to have a test and that’s why you need to read it, he was presenting it as something that had life lessons. He didn’t see me as just a student who was going to produce a grade in his class, he saw me as a whole human being. I realized that was something teachers had the power to do.”

That approach affected Mr. Shimazaki deeply and informed his own style and philosophy of teaching. He uses literature to influence the development of young minds, of young humans. Now the world, and especially the students at Monta Vista High School, are all the luckier for it.

"She was very thoughtful and introspective and very genuine. I’ve seen her come into her own, pave her own path. That’s just awesome to see.”


Shozo Shimazaki on his student, Avishi Agastwar

“We don’t read literature only for the academic skills; there’s also a higher purpose. I try to make connections to the world or to my students’ lives as well. Even in their essay writing, I want them to make it pertinent to the universal. My juniors are at an age where they’re becoming much more the adults, but they’re also still searching for who they are. America espouses a sense of individuality, where we value who we are. I use American literature to help give my students a sense of who they are.”

Mr. Shimazaki saw that happen with Avishi.

“I first met her during her junior year. She was very thoughtful and introspective and very genuine. I’ve seen her come into her own, pave her own path. That’s just awesome to see.”

Avishi, now a high school senior, is currently applying to colleges and hopes to be an activist and shape public policy, creating meaningful change in areas she passionately believes in.

When Mr. Shimazaki decided to become a teacher, he thought that if he could affect even one student in a whole career the way his teachers affected him, helping them grow intellectually and as people, then that would be a career worth having.

It seems you have, Mr. Shimazaki. Indeed, it seems you have.

P.S. Mr. Shimazaki’s own credo? It’s a “famous” (Mr. Shimazaki’s emphasis) quotation by Charlie Brown: “In the book of life, the answers aren’t in the back.” Mr. Shimazaki says, “This credo neglects to mention where the answers really are…but it is all in the looking.”

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