A Connected Community

In January, eight students traveled to San Francisco for their G-Term experience titled, “Hokule‘a Educational Outreach to San Francisco.” While Hokule‘a was not physically present during their trip, the students’ objective was to carry forth its message by sharing the gifts of Hawai‘i through song, dance, education and friendship with groups in the Bay Area. The trip concluded with an opportunity for the Academy students to share their presentation with Punahou alumni. Here is one student’s reflection on the event.

Our arrival at the Bay Club, a luxury fitness and lifestyle center, marked our final performance of the trip. Surprisingly, this unlikely location brought out our most exuberant audience thus far – a group of Punahou alumni living in the Bay Area. With more than 100 guests expected at the event, we were anticipating a full house. The tucked-away patio we were to perform on seemed to shrink with each arriving guest.

In the handful of minutes before our presentation began, we had a chance to speak with a number of alumni. With representatives as far back as the Class of 1962 in attendance, the exposure to a vastly different perspective of Punahou was refreshing and different.

The bulk of our presentation was the same as what we presented to other groups throughout our trip, save for a quick phone call shared with Kaniela Lyman-Mersereau ’05, a Punahou teacher and alumnus who was sailing with Hokule‘a at the time.

Academy students share their knowledge with alumni in San Francisco during their G-Term experience. From left: Dillyn Lietzke ’20, Jasmine Palafox ’17, Punahou Alumni Association Northern California (PAANC) member Lynne Baer ’64, Noah Williams ’17, Brayden Hee ’19, Ke‘ala Akau ’18 (front), Makana Shipman ’19, Kiani Yost ’20 and Hailey Zane ’18. Photo by PAANC member Heidi Emerson ’86 Altree.

Whether it was our audience, or something else entirely, something felt changed in our final performance. The culture and ideas that we shared through our oli, hula and mele were different. In those moments, it felt as though we did more than just mirror the customs of our ancestors. The song and dance became ideas and feelings we could identify with, something understood better with the heart than the mind.

Following our presentation, we had another opportunity to mingle with the guests and get a feel for what their Punahou experience was like and how they were affected by it. The conversations shared with alumni were interesting and varied, covering everything from life after Punahou to what it’s like living and working in the Bay Area.

In keeping with tradition, the gathering closed with all attendees (students and staff included!) getting into a circle and singing “Hawai‘i Aloha.” In the few moments that followed, the space was thoughtful, rhythmic and calm. At the beginning of the event many of us weren’t entirely sure why anyone would want to come to an alumni event. We assumed they just wanted to catch up with old friends and classmates.

But after looking around at the linked hands and smiling faces, all sharing a song that not a single person could forget, we realized there is something much broader and much brighter that holds our community together. There is a sense of place at Punahou – a sense of community – that can exist in no other community. We’re not sure where it comes from, but then again, with a community that connected, is the origin really that important?

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