Commencement 2021

Members of the Class of 2021 received their diplomas in early June 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. 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 with their parents watching.

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.”

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.

McCarren said the Class of 2021 took this year’s Chapel theme, “kuana‘ike” or “perspective” to heart. “While it would be easy to tell a story of woe that these students had to experience the last three-eighths of their high school career in a global pandemic, we will not,” McCarren said. “They have inspired us by heartily rejecting this narrative – seeing things from their own perspective or vantage point – kuana‘ike – the propitious Class has proclaimed, ‘What opportunity, what chance!’”

Deans Lisa Stewart and Brendan Maloney then invited each member of the Class to walk up on stage to receive a diploma.

The ceremony ended with a virtual presentation of the graduates singing “Grow As We Go,” followed by their live, emotional rendition of “O‘ahu a” and “Strawberry Shortcake” while standing together on the bleachers.

After Commencement, the new graduates and their families drove through a sparkling, 150-foot tunnel of Buff ’n Blue lights, which were constructed for the School by Michael Gangloff and the Show Aloha Challenge Foundation for $1. Gangloff, whose daughter, Amy, graduated from Punahou in 2013, also constructed a special trailer to haul the equipment to Punahou, footing the cost himself. The tunnel, which was programmed in different patterns to be synchronized to Punahou pep rally songs, was built the night before Commencement to minimize the impact on campus and to surprise the graduates. After driving through the tunnel in front of the Kosasa Community, the School’s newest alumni were greeted by cheering faculty and staff, waving pompoms and signs. A fitting finale!

The following are excerpts from this year’s student speakers

Thomas Nitao ’21, Senior Class President
“In the 180 years that Punahou has been an institution, 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. Class of 2021, you’re unshakeable. In a year that was defined by distance and sacrifice, only an unshakeable Class could end it in arms together. And while most people would end it here by saying something like, “Get ready for us, world,” I’ve got a new message: Bring it on. I know about 421 people who can take anything the world can throw at them, and I know that we’ll come out the other side stronger. Why? Because we’re unshakeable. I couldn’t be prouder to be your president.”

Makana Kaaloa ’21
“To honor this occasion, I want to say, “Class of 2021, e ho‘omaika‘i aku ma kou,” which means “may we give thanks.” We have faced many ups and downs. We crave to make a positive change in the world.

We are hardworking, tenacious, caring and above all, supportive. When the rain came, we created rainbows. When the rain came, we saw it as a time for regrowth. When the rain came, we filmed a memorable lip dub. Although we will no longer be together as a Class, may we continue to grow and be the guiding light for each other when rain turns into a storm.”

Lauren Luke ’21
“Given our supportive, diverse and talented Class, we depart from Punahou on a rather comforting cliffhanger. There is no clear-cut ending to our story, but one thing remains certain. To quote ‘Friends,” the show we all binge-watched in eighth grade, “I’ll be there for you ’cause you’re there for me too.'”

Speech by Mike Latham ’86: Gratitude, Empathy and Vocation

There are moments in our lives when we wish we could stop the hands of time, or at the very least, slow them down. These are the moments when we suddenly realize that we stand face-to-face with something so beautiful, so deeply joyful that we want passionately to hold it fast, to not let it go. We desperately wish that we might stretch out the present minute, that precious instant, and prevent it from slipping away into the past. In my own life, I can count many of those moments. Afternoon swimming and bodysurfing with my father, streaking across the face of ocean swells, and wishing I could stretch the future into an Endless Summer. The day I was married, surrounded by the most important, beloved people in my life. The moments I first held my newborn children.

At the close of this evening, in the blink of an eye, you will each walk off with newly minted Punahou diplomas. You will draw your years of experience at this School to a close, put our beautiful campus in the rear-view mirror and drive or fly off into your futures. So how should you reflect on the meaning of this particular moment of joy, this transition which is both a conclusion and a commencement? How can you carry this experience with you, recognizing that the ideals and aspirations you have encountered at Punahou will in fact endure, traveling with you even as you leave this place? How can you turn the moment into a lifetime?

As your President, I’m going to offer just a few simple words of advice. First, start with gratitude. Turn around right now, look those precious family members here with you in the eye, give them a hug and say thank you. 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. 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.

Second, try to deepen your capacity for empathy. Amid the uncertainty of this year, Punahou had to modify many of our normal practices, routines and traditions and make innumerable judgment calls. Some were popular, others raised questions and many, many people wrote to me to share their perspectives. I got letters from staff, faculty, alumni, parents and third graders. Yes, that’s right, third graders. Now, you may think you know something about third graders, those little kids racing gleefully across the grass at Kosasa, climbing over the playground and singing adorably in Chapel.

But, my friends, don’t be deceived! Behind that cute façade, they have arguments, they have agendas and they have plans. This April, several third graders sent me the following letter: “Dear Dr. Latham, Do you want longer weekends? Because we do! We need a longer weekend because we need to spend time with our families. We can go to the beach, park, eat out and go to the movies or watch a movie at home. Our second reason is that our teachers need a break, but they don’t tell us and they keep it a secret. I know you’re wondering, What will the teachers do? I’ll tell you what they’ll do! They will get to sleep longer and not wake up early to come to school.

The solution that we have chosen is erasing Monday from school because on Sunday, we’re always tired from the weekend, and we can never wake up. We’re pretty sure you have experienced that moment. We really hope you will try this out and maybe you can let us have longer weekends! Please don’t let us poor children down.” Now, as you can imagine, I had to reply very thoughtfully to that manifesto. After all, their teacher told me that if they didn’t get what they wanted from me, they were going to go straight to President Biden. So, in honor of those third graders, and by the power vested in me by the Board of Trustees, I hereby declare that you, the Class of 2021, will never have to come to school on Mondays at Punahou ever again!

But in all seriousness, it is far too easy to set ourselves apart, to tune out the sounds and sights of a desperate world, and to listen to the views, arguments and opinions of only the people we already agree with. Instead of exploring different perspectives, we could listen only to the news programs, follow the media sources and enjoy the novels that confirm our already deeply held convictions. And that, I believe, would be a mistake. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are fundamentally connected to and dependent on each other. Our behavior, our choices and our decisions have a direct and vital impact on the health, lives and futures of others, whether we realize it or not.

As thinkers as ideologically diverse as Robert George and Cornel West have reminded us, a thriving democracy also requires that we find ways to listen, to seek to understand and to go forward with the kind of intellectual humility that allows us to grow personally while learning from others. Not every opinion is equally valid of course, and not all merit being taken seriously. In a very real way, however, I believe that our shared future will depend on the capacity of brilliant, caring and compassionate young people like you to listen to a wide range of different perspectives and to seek to understand the reasons, emotions and histories that lead others to think as they do. You may not change what you believe, but you may also emerge with a deeper sense of why you believe what you believe. Your growing self-understanding, and your willingness to reach out across barriers of culture and experience might also open up the vital space in which we can collectively approach some of the most daunting challenges ahead of us.

Finally, in addition to expressing gratitude and cultivating empathy, I hope that you will fall in love. I hope that you will find the cause and purpose that inspires, motivates and drives you. I hope that you will find not just a career, but a vocation and a true sense of calling that allows you to align your great talents and gifts with the real and pressing needs of our world. Some of you may find that inspiration in teaching, coaching or mentoring. Others will discover it in medicine, science, government, the law or business. Still more may encounter it in the joys of parenting. No matter which path you ultimately pursue, and where you ultimately do it, however, I hope that you will continue to move beyond the boundaries of the familiar and the comfortable, and allow yourself to be transformed through service to a larger, human cause. As Pedro Arrupe, one of the past century’s most influential spiritual leaders, reflected, “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

Congratulations to you all. You did it, and you did it together. Punahou School is a much better place because you have been here.

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