Nikiski student recognized for leadership, involvement

Jayden Tumbaga stands with this mother, Evan, and his father, Fred on May 24 during graduation day at Nikiski Middle/High School.

In 2004, Jayden Tumbaga was looking down two paths. A tragic car accident had left his father paralyzed and his mother injured, changing everything he had known.


One path led to dwelling on the negative. The other path was to overcome.

The 10-year-old Tumbaga chose the latter.

Over the next seven years, that attitude would lead the Nikiski resident on a path that has allowed him to give back to his community and inspire others.

“After the initial grief I tried my best to look on the brighter side of things,” he said. “I stayed in sports, continued my school work, and learned to appreciate everything I had.”

Responsibility of being a caretaker and provider for his family was now on his shoulders. He was able to still excel in school, hold a job, play sports and volunteer his time to special needs classes at his school.

“I realized that I could only move forward and that nothing good would come out of depression,” he said. “In the worst moments, it was my family and friends that helped me through those trials, especially my mom and brother.”

Tumbaga said it was his mom and brother that raised him, and made him who he is.

“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” he said.

Tumbaga, now 17 years old, graduated from Nikiski High School last spring and now is attending college at the University of Colorado, Denver. He had help to cover some of his expenses.

Alaska Communications and the Boys & Girls Clubs-Alaska collaborated in creating the Summer of Heroes program to honor Alaska youths in the communities that give back and make a difference.

Heather Cavanaugh, Alaska Communications director of corporate communications, said Tumbaga was the ideal candidate for the scholarship because of what he was able to overcome and his volunteer work.

“Jayden is such a remarkable young man,” she said. “He’s given back so much, so you can tell he thinks about others before he thinks about himself.

“He’s really an outstanding youth, by doing a lot to make a difference in his local community.”

Tumbaga said he was thankful that his mom nominated him for the scholarship and knew the money would help his transition into college. He knew college was the next step in his path.

“It was never a question of whether or not I would go to college,” he said. “I knew I wanted to, and I knew it was in my future.”

However, that would mean leaving his parents and his brother behind.

“It was pretty hard to leave, especially my dad, leaving him there.” Tumbaga said. “But I just knew I had to do what I needed to do.

“I was excited for something new and more challenges I could embrace.”

Tumbaga had only one choice for where he would attend college. He chose the University of Colorado, Denver because of the many scholarship programs he was able to enroll in.

“The University of Colorado, Denver also has a great program and classes for Pre-health students,” he said.

Tumbaga is hoping to become a pharmacist. He believes that his experiences have helped prepare him for what’s to come.

“As a result of everything that I have been through, I’m more mature, responsible, grateful and independent than I ever was,” he said. “It allowed me to put things in perspective so that I can always move forward, no matter the situation.”