Before he took his first class at the University of Kansas, Tony Raymond dreamed of two things: living in Japan and landing a prestigious job in the automotive industry. The soon-to-be engineering graduate will have to come up with a new dream, because at 23 years old, he's already accomplished both of those goals.
"It's like it all happened at once," he said. "The perfect job in the perfect place."
In July, Raymond will pack up his diploma and a couple suitcases and head 6,000 miles west. The 12-hour flight will land him in Tokyo, where he will begin his new career as an automotive engineer with Bosch Group, one of the world's largest private industrial corporations.
He's been interested in automobiles — specifically, better ways to make them go — since high school. His passion for Japan came even earlier.
Raymond's family made certain their children's view of the world stretched beyond the suburbs of their Olathe home. His parents, stepparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all invited the world into their homes through a student exchange program.
"We had students from Poland, Spain, Portugal, Brazil and Japan," he said. "I was young — probably younger than 6 years old — when the first students were here."
Although he was too young at that time to participate in a true cultural exchange, a curiosity and respect for other cultures was born. In summer 1996, he hosted Yuichi Kano, a student from Japan. Raymond dedicated himself then to learning his new friend's native language. He enrolled in his high school Japanese language classes and spent one month before his junior year in Asahikawa, Japan.
The demands of college didn't slow him down. He's taken more than 50 hours of Japanese and East Asian language courses, even though only seven of them count toward his engineering degree. He spent his sophomore year at Obirin (pronounced Obedean) University in Tokyo.
His two passions paid off big for him during a recent career fair. His mechanical engineering major coupled with his knowledge of Japan put him in an elite class. Bosch hired him to work in Yokahama, Japan, close to Tokyo. There, he will test and tune engines and set engine parameters.
Like his fellow graduates, Raymond will have to make the college-to-career transition. Unlike most of them, he'll also have to deal with living full time in a foreign country. Religion and family have always been big parts of Raymond's life. In his new home, he will have to find new ways to nurture both.
Raised Catholic, Raymond remembers waking early each day to attend 6 a.m. Mass with his mother. But he's not worried about moving to a country where Catholics comprise less than 0.5 percent of the population. As a matter of fact, Anthony said, the lack of organized religion is one the things he finds most appealing about his future home.
"I love the fact that, although there's not a lot of what you would call organized religion there, Japanese people live their lives with such high morals. They're very good and decent people," he said.
Raymond plans to take some time before deciding what his next long-term goal will be. For now, he has his sites set on winning the Society of Automotive Engineers Formula Car Challenge. He and his fellow KU Motorsports team members have worked throughout the school year to design, build, test and fine tune their race car. Later this month, they will travel to Detroit, where they will compete against more than 120 teams from colleges and universities from around the world. They hope to improve on last year's team-best fourth-place finish.
Robert Sorem, associate dean of the School of Engineering, is not surprised by Raymond's early accomplishments and predicts he will continue to succeed, regardless of what he attempts in life.
"Tony brings energy and excitement to everything he takes on," Sorem said. "He's a great person to have on the Jayhawk Motorsports team. I'm sure success will follow him across the Pacific."
Unfortunately, because of the competition, Raymond and his fellow team members will miss out on an important Jayhawk tradition.
"The awards ceremony is the same time as KU's graduation, so we won't get to walk down the hill or through the campanile with everyone else," he said. "But that's OK, this competition has been a dream of mine for a while, too."