Members of this year’s graduating Class received their diplomas Saturday on Punahou’s Alexander Field in a joyous Commencement celebration.
A covered stage was set up on one side of the field, facing a sea of seats for graduates and their parents. Students had the option of wearing traditional holoku or suits. Although pandemic protocols were in place, requiring students to wear face coverings and remain socially distant, the graduates were able to sing and dance hula together, and receive their diplomas in front of the entire audience.
The ceremony began with graduates walking across the stage, then to the seated area to join their family members and give them lei as the Punahou Symphony Orchestra played “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Senior Class President Thomas Nitao ’21 gave the first speech of the evening, telling his classmates that in Punahou’s 180-year history, no graduating Class has faced greater challenges. “But through many Webex meetings, a completely digital Variety Show, socially distanced dinner night and an in-person graduation, not even a pandemic could stop us from taking our senior year into our hands and making it our own,” he said.
In her address, Academy Principal Emily McCarren offered the word, “propitious” (favorable or auspicious, pointing to a happy outcome) to describe the Class of 2021 and how they were able to thrive amid the challenges of the pandemic. “The Class has helped us all examine, redefine and improve the Punahou experience … Instead of limping to the end of a year they might have written a different way, they finished so strong, or as Dean Brendan said, so very un-fragile,” she said.
President Mike Latham ’86 then spoke, urging the Class to be grateful to those who have helped them over the years. “Your parents and your family share in your joy, and their sacrifices, devotion and commitment enabled you to make the most of your great gifts, and to grow into the young adults that you are today,” he said. “These are the people who always believed in you, even when you didn’t believe in yourself. Your teachers, coaches and advisers supported you, exposed you to the complexity of the world’s challenges, and built a community in which you could learn not only how to think but also to reflect on how to live. You also built lifelong friendships, bonds with those that understood, loved and supported you. So, I urge you to stop, reflect, and thank those who have enabled you to reach this point.”
Deans Lisa Stewart and Brendan Maloney then presented the Class of 2021, inviting each member to walk up on stage to receive their diploma.
The ceremony ended with a virtual presentation of the Class singing “Grow As We Go,” followed by a live, emotional rendition of them singing “O‘ahu a” and chanting “Strawberry Shortcake” for a final time while standing together on the bleachers.
After, the Class received a surprise send-off as they drove off campus with a dazzling, 150-foot light tunnel along the way and cheering faculty and staff.
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