2022 Students of Distinction
Ethan Sun an award-winning pianist, tennis player, math tutor
Gig Harbor Now is posting profiles of each of the 25 Students of Distinction being honored by the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation. The students will be honored during a banquet from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Ocean5, 5268 Point Fosdick Dr.
Student: Ethan Sun
School: Peninsula High School
Category: Music, Art & Drama Achievement
Ethan Sun has traveled around the world studying, performing and winning awards with his remarkable classical music repertoire. He’s been playing piano since he was 5 years old and competing since he was 8. It could be said that music has been his whole life.
He also loves math, and plans to work toward a degree in applied mathematics at Dartmouth College this fall.
Breaking through the wall
Music and math have also presented major challenges to him over the past few years, Ethan said.
“There comes a point in everyone’s journey, no matter what that journey may be, where you hit a wall and it feels like you can’t go on. I’ve hit this wall more times than I can count over the course of my mathematics and piano careers. I was always completing math homework to get good grades so that I could get into a good college and I was always practicing piano to impress a panel and win more competitions.”
That constant pressure wore him down, until he realized that the key to breaking down the wall was to change his mindset.
“I was always looking to impress someone else. As soon as I realized this and took it to heart, I began to look inwards at what I enjoyed and started diving into math and playing the piano for me.”
That newfound freedom to do things purely for the pleasure they gave him led him to start exploring his secret love: jazz, especially the music of legendary artists like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. And he learned to play Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” – a real workout for pianists – “totally for my own enjoyment.”
It also gave him an opportunity to try out for the track team.
“That was one of the best decisions I made because it’s something that I did purely for me, not because it’d look good on my college applications. And that was incredibly freeing,” he said. Track turned out to be his favorite high school experience, topped off by being elected team captain.
He has also played tennis for many years. In his junior and senior years he was captain of the PHS varsity team. He qualified for state in his sophomore and senior years, and for district every year but 2020, when athletics were cancelled because of COVID.
He’s also president of Phi Theta Kappa at TCC through his Running Start program, and he volunteers as a math tutor.
Helping others is the most important thing he’s done in high school, he said — helping a friend complete a tough homework assignment, lending a supportive ear or helping a teammate up off the track or court after a grueling race or match.
“The connections and relationships one builds with others bring a special joy. Being ambitious and supportive aren’t mutually exclusive. Wanting the best for yourself doesn’t mean that you ignore or hurt others.”
In a letter of recommendation, PHS Life Sciences teacher Amanda Balera wrote: “Ethan has always been willing to help and challenge his classmates and shares his knowledge unselfishly. He strives to show his best work in anything that he puts his mind to and has always been committed to having his peers understand lessons, whether for academic purposes, athletic purposes or life purposes.”
Ethan’s advice to younger students: “Live your own life. It doesn’t matter what others think of you, what they think you should do, or how they think you should be living your life. Your life is yours and yours alone, so live it the way you want to. Pursue what you’re passionate about as hard as you can, take up hobbies and interests that you love, and spend time with and take care of those who are important to you because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.”
School: Peninsula High School
Category: Music, Art & Drama
Parents: John Sun and Yumee Shim
Activities/Accomplishments: Varsity Tennis four years, team captain, Junior & Senior years, State Qualifier – sophomore & senior; District qualifier four years; National Honor Society; Scholar Athlete; President of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society at TCC Running Start; piano teacher; volunteer math tutor
Favorite teacher: “My two recent piano teachers, Drs. Hulbert and Ding. They have pushed me to always strive for perfection to reach the next level. As well as mentoring me, they both care about my life outside of piano. They do more than my teachers; they’ve become family.”
Best thing about PHS: “How supportive they are of their students. The coaches, and especially my counselor, are very involved and no matter your interests, hobbies or educational and vocational plans, they are available to always help their students.”