Camas Character: Mark Kim willing, ready to serve

Excellent student and state champion swimmer heading to West Point in two weeks

CAMAS — It started with his upbringing, from his parents.

His swim coaches preached the same philosophy.

His band director taught a standard of excellence, too.

Mark Kim will graduate from Camas High School on Friday and 12 days later will be off to West Point. The state champion will swim for the Black Knights as he prepares to serve his country. Photo by Paul Valencia
Mark Kim will graduate from Camas High School on Friday and 12 days later will be off to West Point. The state champion will swim for the Black Knights as he prepares to serve his country. Photo by Paul Valencia

Performance matters, they all say, but not as much as character.

So Mark Kim went about becoming a quality student at Camas High School, a state champion swimmer, and a proud member of one of the best bands in the Northwest. More importantly to him, he hopes he has been a good person, to his peers, his teachers, his family.

“The things we do represent the people we love,” Kim said.

Mark Kim will be showing more love to those people just 12 days after he graduates from Camas, when he heads to West Point to begin his studies at the U.S. Military Academy in New York.

“It’s a privilege to serve my country,” Kim said. “It’s the best way to give back to the people who gave in my life.”

Camas High School
Commencement Ceremony

7 p.m. Friday
At Doc Harris Stadium

It also is a chance for Kim to continue his swimming career. He was recruited by West Point to swim for the Black Knights.

An assistant coach made contact with Kim toward the end of his junior year at Camas.

“We didn’t believe it was real,” Kim said, noting he and his parents were hesitant. “It was so out of the blue and from such a prestigious school. We looked him up to make sure he was real.”

Yes, the Army wanted Kim, who finished his high school swimming career at Camas with four individual state titles and led the Papermakers to back-to-back team championships.

Turns out, Kim wanted West Point.

He had an official visit at the academy last September. Kim called the trip the “full-meal deal” because it coincided with Branch Week. That is when all 17 branches of the U.S. Army showcase their skills in front of cadets and guests.

“There were tanks there, helicopters flying around. It was breathtaking, honestly,” Kim said. “I was sold. I knew that is where I wanted to go.”

Unlike other NCAA programs, it is not just a matter of qualifying with an academic record. Kim has those quality marks with his SAT scores and grade-point average. He said he is 30th in his class of 499 students and excelled in nine advanced placement classes.

He also had to go through the interview process to receive a congressional nomination. He received his through U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler. He had to get medical clearance and go through a background check.

He understands he will not be a typical college student. There is nothing typical about being a student at a military academy. He knows it will be a challenge, especially that first year.

“I’m not bothered by that. It’s what I signed up for,” Kim said.

He wants to study mechanical engineering, which also is a fit because Kim called West Point one of the top five in the nation for that major.

Then there is life after West Point. Those who graduate from the academy are required to serve in the U.S. Army.

“I’ve had people thank me for my service. In my head, I haven’t done anything,” Kim said.

Still, as he said, he knows what he is signing up for and why he is making this decision. He knows, in today’s world, he could very well be in harm’s way soon after graduation.

“All I know is I’m willing to go into service. I like to think I am ready,” Kim said. “I am willing to lay down my life for the people I care about and the people I love.”

A lot of those people are in Camas.

He said being a Papermaker was quite the experience.

“The school has done a good job of getting students involved with the school and with each other,” Kim said. “I really appreciate that. I met people my freshman year I can call my best friends.”

He credits his band teacher, Richard Mancini, for always reminding his students that a quality character is far more important than how one plays an instrument. Kim said he thought of that as a swimmer, too.

“I am swimming for myself, but I’m also swimming for my high school, for my team,” he said.

“I’m proud to represent my school, my teachers, my coaches, my friends, my family.”

Mark and Danielle Kim have to be proud of their son, Mark Jr. Their son certainly admires them.

For the soon-to-be Camas graduate, Mark Kim said the key in life is to do things for the benefit of others, out of respect for others.

“My parents drove that into me,” he said. “I grew up around that atmosphere. Respect is a big thing.”

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