Siblings Justin Kawaguchi, MHA ’22, and Carter Kawaguchi, an incoming Trojan, credit shared values and their grandfather for success in academics, community involvement
By Greg Hardesty
Recently, the super-busy Kawaguchi brothers – Justin, 23, who graduated this spring with a master’s degree in health administration from the USC Price School, and Carter, 18, who starts at USC this fall as a computational linguistics major – found time for a game of pickleball with some friends.
Playing doubles on opposite sides of the court, Carter’s team repeatedly smashed the competition.
You should see them off the court.
“I want to try to get to the same level as him,” Carter says good-naturedly of Justin. His older brother is heading to Taiwan this summer on a Fulbright scholarship to teach English for a year before starting work as a management consultant at the global management consulting firm, Bain & Co.
Justin set a solid example for his younger brother, both academically and in terms of community involvement, and Carter says he’s motivated to attain a similar level of success.
He’s well on his way.
Both brothers say they’ve been encouraged by their father Glenn, an optometrist, and mother Kristine, a school nurse, to be fearless and independent thinkers and to strive for self-sufficiency.
They also point to their maternal grandfather, Tsukasa Saneto, as inspiration for them to succeed in their studies and stay connected to their community – as well as attend and excel at USC.
Saneto, who was known as a skilled orator and as a leader in the Japanese American community, was attending USC when World War II broke out.
As a “Nisei” U.S.-born son of Japanese immigrants, he was forced to leave the university. Fortunately, though, Saneto was able to return to USC after the war ended to complete his degree in business administration.
But because of post-war xenophobia toward Japanese Americans, Saneto veered from corporate life and became a gardener, supporting his daughter – Kristine Kawaguchi, Justin and Carter’s mother – so she could go to college.
“He’s a big throughline to my time at USC,” Justin says.
Growing up in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Justin and Carter regularly attended services at Senshin Buddhist Temple as part of their religious faith.
Both served as senior class presidents at Newbury Park High School, both were valedictorians, and both were active in the Key Club and on the swim team.
Justin has interned with the Little Tokyo Community Council and served as a docent at the Japanese American National Museum.
At USC, Justin, who sits on the National Board of the Japanese American Citizens League, earned an undergraduate degree in global health from the Keck School of Medicine in 2021. He started on his master’s degree at USC Price as a senior. He also worked as a university tour guide, which allowed him to share his love of the Trojan family by inspiring other students to aspire to higher education.
Justin says what stands out the most at his time at USC is how supportive faculty and administrators are of their students.
“I really felt supported by the Price community during my entire time at the school,” he says.
Justin cites Jennifer Kim, program administrator of the Master of Health Administration at the USC Price School of Public Policy, as a key mentor.
“He seemed to always know what he wanted to do, and what steps he would need to take to make it happen,” says Kim.
Kim met Justin when he was a freshman and already knew he wanted to pursue an MHA.
“When he would set up a meeting to ask me questions,” Kim recalls, “he was the type to have thought everything through and presented several options and possible solutions. And just on a personal level, he has always been courteous, kind, with a very bright and positive nature.
“I’m very proud and happy to hear of his accomplishments and successes thus far, and know he’ll continue to make an impact in this field.”
In Taiwan, Justin will be teaching English in the port city of Kaohsiung.
In August, Carter will move into the same USC housing unit – the McCarthy Honors Residential College — where his brother lived.
Carter chose to major in computational linguistic at USC Dornsife because he’s always been interested in technology and loves languages.
Justin says he switched from pre-med because of his interest in broad health-related global issues such as disparities in the delivery of healthcare to different populations.
“It was a natural progression for me thinking about systematic changes that impact healthcare as opposed to practicing medicine,” he explains.
Over the next year, the Kawaguchi brothers won’t be seeing much of each other.
But when they do, they have a date:
Another session on the pickleball court.