Brandon McKay

Brandon McKay.

Chris Flora/The Explorer

When Ironwood Ridge sophomore Brandon McKay decided to learn Japanese to carry on his mother’s heritage, he wasn’t expecting an award to come with it.

But that’s exactly what he got on April 20 after taking first place in the 11th annual Japanese Speech Contest at Pima Community College’s West Campus.

The contest divided students by their level of enrollment in the college’s Japanese language courses, requiring participants to deliver a speech, two to five minutes in length, entirely in Japanese.

McKay’s speech told the story of his various travels and hometowns.

McKay’s father, Doug, and mother, Miyako, met in Japan while the two worked on the same airline. Work would relocate the family to Singapore and eventually the United States.

“It’s definitely been interesting,” said McKay about his journey, which ultimately landed him in Oro Valley.

It seems the judges agreed.

McKay, who began taking Japanese language courses last September, beat out nine other opponents in his category to capture the win. It was a bit of a jaw-dropper for the young Ironwood Ridge student.

“I didn’t expect to win it at all,” said McKay. “I was just trying to see how it went, but surprisingly I did (win).”

Miyako says she was pleased to see some of her son’s cultural roots resurfacing.

“When we came here (to the United States), the environment changed to English, and it was kind of difficult to keep up just by myself,” she said. “The school was English, his friends spoke English. I was just happy he decided to do this.”

Miyako, who is fluent in Japanese, served as a resource to McKay regarding his language studies, though she did so methodically.

“I’m really tough on him,” she said. “I don’t just give him easy answers.”

McKay says Yosei Sugawara, his language professor at Pima Community College, also approaches educating with a similar mentality.

“Tough but fun,” said McKay, who adds that strategy has been beneficial to his learning. And learning is something McKay loves doing.

McKay’s new endeavor with the Japanese language was preceded by last summer’s venture into the Naval Academy, which is designed to help students gain college-level experience in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math. 

Miyako says she and her husband have always tried to instill independence in their son through camps and educational programs.

For McKay, the reward from participating in such activities has far outweighed any risk of failure.

“I think a lot of the time people think of the negatives, and there are always negatives and always will be, but try not to care about that,” said McKay. “That will just pull you down. Always look at the positive side. I always try to look at the positive side, even if I’m going through rough patches.”

McKay plans to continue taking Japanese-language courses and is considering teaching overseas, though his career options are still open – and vast.  

The Japanese Speech Contest incorporates various other elements of the Japanese culture. More information on the annual event can be found at

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.