Despite missing the last two months of his senior year due to his “American Idol” schedule, Season 21 winner Iam Tongi was able to graduate from Decatur High School in Federal Way, Washington, on June 12, 2023. The 18-year-old singer, whose first single has already topped the Billboard charts, returned home after an eventful weekend at CMA Fest in Nashville for the ceremony and even serenaded the crowd. Here’s what you need to know:
Iam Tongi Dedicates Song to Classmates at Graduation Ceremony
Fresh off his appearances during CMA Fest in Nashville, including a reunion concert with some of his fellow “Idol” contestants, Tongi made it home to Federal Way to receive his diploma. Dressed in a navy blue cap and gown, the singer posted several videos in his Instagram Stories of him and his friends driving to the ceremony, celebrating afterward and also one of him singing the school song for Kahuku High School in Hawaii, where he received an honorary diploma in May.
Tongi grew up in Kahuku, on the island of Oahu, but he famously told celebrity judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan during his “Idol” audition that his family had been “priced out of paradise.” They had to move to Federal Way — located about 40 minutes from Seattle — when he was a freshman in high school. During his “Idol” hometown visit on May 16, he stopped by Kahuku High School, where he would have graduated from had he not moved to Washington. The school’s principal, Dr. Donna Lindsey, gave Tongi an honorary diploma and red cap and gown.
At the June 12 ceremony, after receiving his official diploma from Decatur High School, Tongi performed two songs for the crowd and his classmates. KITV-4 Island News reporter Mika Miyashima posted an Instagram video from the ceremony, and a video of Tongi receiving his diploma and singing was also shared on YouTube, as seen above.
“I just wanted to thank all the staff, all the teachers,” Tongi said before singing. “Thank you guys for everything and for supporting on this journey. And I wanted to dedicate this song to all of my classmates.”
“When I won ‘American Idol’ I sang this song as my last song,” he continued. “I want to sing this song for you guys ’cause we’re all winners today. That was kinda corny, but yeah!”
He then began to play Spawnbreezie’s “Don’t Let Go,” but started to laugh and exclaimed, “Restart, restart!” Members of his class and the crowd screamed through much of his performance, as well as when he walked across the stage to receive his diploma.
Teachers Helped Iam Tongi Make Sure He Had Enough Credits to Graduate
Tongi missed a significant amount of school to appear on “American Idol,” since he had to attend initial auditions in the fall of 2022, Hollywood Week, time in Hawaii filming the Showstopper Round, and then competing on the live shows in April and May.
ABC does provide tutoring for minors with on-set teacher Lena L. Liu, but keeping up with homework can be challenging given the busy schedule. During Season 21, 17-year-old contestant Haven Madison shared photos in her Instagram Stories of working with Liu — and a post with her dog Romeo – in between rehearsals and fittings. But since Tongi was already 18 while filming, it’s not clear if he was required to attend tutoring sessions.
On May 25, his English teacher at Decatur High School, Matt Vaeena, told the Seattle Times that the staff was working to help Tongi graduate with his classmates.
“We’ve built a plan for him to be able to meet the graduation requirements that he needed to and have the opportunity to walk with his class,” he said.
But Vaeena also added that Tongi was “definitely a kid that I had to wrangle a couple times and really get on for getting things done, but he was able to get everything he needed to get done in the first semester and I’m sure in the next couple of days he’ll be able to wrap up the second semester as well.”
As for Tongi’s musical prowess, that came as no surprise to his teacher and friends.
“The kid walked around the school hallways with his guitar,” Vaeena said.